Federal government to slash university debts for rural and regional nurses and doctors

The federal government has announced a new scheme which will wipe the university debts of nurses and doctors who work in rural, regional, and remote areas.


The federal government has announced a new scheme which will wipe the university debts of nurses and doctors who work in rural, regional, and remote areas.

This comes in response to the chronic shortage of medical professionals in rural, regional, and remote areas. The proposed scheme works to incentivise medical workers and junior doctors and nurses to “go bush”. It is set to slash up to $100,000 off HECS debts per individual.

Doctors and nurse practitioners will have to meet several conditions to claim this scheme. For those working in rural and regional areas, they must work for a period of time, and a number of hours, equivalent to their entire degree. Medical professionals working in a remote community will need to work 14 hours a week for a period of time matching half the length of their degree.

The National Union of Students (NUS) proposed this scheme in its 2021 pre-budget submission and views this move by the government as a “win”.

“The NUS has called for the phasing in of free-education incentivisation measures throughout the year,” said NUS President Zoe Ranganathan.

“We know that free education works … it’s long overdue—but the Union is glad that this government finally agrees.”

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Sophie Nguyen echoes these sentiments.

“It’s been a tough 2 years for higher education during the pandemic and under this Federal Government,” Nguyen said.

“It’s great to see that the Government is stepping up and providing free education incentives that will be highly beneficial for rural and regional communities. It’s what students deserve.”

Regional Health Minister David Gillespie said that current benefits, such as additional Medicare benefits and scholarship programs, will still remain alongside this scheme.

“The more remote you go, the more significant the practice incentive payment or the workforce incentive payment is,” Dr Gillespie told the ABC.

“It is targeted because there is an acute shortage of general practitioners in the outer, regional, and remote areas — more so than anywhere else.”

However, the NUS and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) are calling for the government to extend this scheme to other STEM areas facing a shortage in workers, such as dentistry, podiatry, and optometry.

“A refusal to extend this scheme to others would be to deny not just students, but the Australian population of the benefits of free education,” said the NUS.

“This announcement demonstrates that the Government knows how beneficial free education is to Australian society … It’s time for the Government to step up.”

UMSU Education Public Officers Benjamin Jarick and Ruby Craven agree with the NUS, and say that there is still more work to be done.

“Whilst it is promising to see the Federal Government make education more accessible for those in rural and regional areas, access to higher education remains woefully inequitable, particularly for those from lower SES backgrounds,” said Jarick.

“UMSU Education will be placing greater pressure on both major parties to provide free education for all students in Australia.”


Image credit: The University of Melbourne.

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