Charles Sturt University (CSU) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vann, acknowledged the difficult task of delivering a Federal Budget that balanced the need for financial constraint, while also investing strategically to stimulate future growth and jobs creation nationally.
"This Budget heralds very big changes for the higher education sector, and will have particular flow-on effects to Charles Sturt University's rural and regional communities.
"While we acknowledge the Government's view that it was necessary to impose a greater share of the cost of higher education on students, we also know that cost is a much bigger factor for rural students, compared to city students, in making a decision about whether to go to University.
"The last two decades has witnessed a renaissance in rural Australia, with new universities opening and new campuses being developed.
"Over the last two decades, rural universities have become some of the most significant economic actors, job creators, skills generators and community benefactors in rural and regional communities.
"For the first time in the history of this country, rural people were beginning to get similar levels of access to affordable higher education as their city cousins.
"This has been the real success story of government higher education reforms.
"More rural and Indigenous students going to University, and more graduates going out to work in rural employment in areas of workforce shortage.
"Rural communities are understandably wary about the impacts of this budget on regional universities and rural and regional students.
"The proposed changes are a significant shift of cost onto students – from 41% of the cost of their education to 52 per cent. While we don't expect to see an immediate decline in rural students going to university, we are concerned that in the long term this will impact rural students as the cost of higher education to them rises.
"There is also the risk that the new rules will mandate 20 per cent of additional university revenue be put into equity scholarships. The universities with the highest fees will likely be the Group of Eight research intensive metropolitan universities and therefore they will have the most funds to entice rural students to the cities – and we know we are much less likely to get them back to the regions once they have left.
"What concerns us most would be a reduction in students studying at rural universities, taking us back to the days of rural workforce shortages just as we are starting to build a sustainable supply.
"Our challenge will be to talk with the government about the structural reforms that are needed to ensure we don't lose the enormous advancements that have been achieved through rural higher education delivery.
"We must ensure a continuing and sustainable supply of skills to areas of need in rural communities, and that means we need to give students from rural areas access to rurally based educational opportunities.
"One of our key messages to governments over many years has been that rural markets are very different to city markets.
"We will engage with the government proactively on behalf of rural communities to ensure that any reforms now and into the future continue to support growth in skills development in rural and regional Australia in areas of need" said Professor Vann