A NURSING union has slammed the Turnbull Government, claiming it is taking away opportunities for aspiring nurses in regional areas like Central Queensland.
According to the Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union (QNMU), the federal government's decision to freeze funding for university placements will result in poorer health particularly in regional communities.
In December the government announced a two-year freeze on the Commonwealth Grant Scheme payments to universities and a cap on funding for student places.
QNMU Acting Secretary Sandra Eales said this decision would affect all prospective students - particularly those living outside city areas.
Ms Eales said under the two-year freeze, smaller universities in regional areas would be less likely to absorb the cost of funding new placements and as a result, the number of future nurses in the region would drop significantly.
According to Ms Eales, this in turn would impact the long-term health and well-being of entire towns as most nursing students go on to work in their local communities.
"This decision makes it impossible for student nurses to train, learn or provide future care for the regional communities where they live,'' Ms Eales said.
"There is no doubt this freeze, decided silently in the comfort of Canberra, will directly and adversely impact the hopes, dreams and future of young people and communities throughout regional Australia.
"Regional students in Yeppoon deserve the same opportunities as those in Sydney's Point Piper, where Malcom Turnbull lives.”
After the December 18 announcement of the funding freeze, national universities were in uproar about the decision and the impact it would have.
CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman said without Federal funding, student fees would not even cover the cost of student nurse hospital placements.
"We're gobsmacked,” he said.
"The Government has talked about improving higher education in regional Australia and they've just put a steamroller through it all.
"Even if the communities we serve need nurses, we won't be able to train them because the student fees won't even cover the costs of clinical education that we have to pay hospitals.”
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham responded to the "emotional language about university funding changes” in a statement.
Mr Birmingham said in the past seven years Australian universities had spent $1.7 billion on marketing and advertising.
"How much of that was from taxpayers?” Mr Birmingham said.
"It's important to inject some facts amidst the scaremongering.”
Mr Birmingham said per student funding from the Federal government last year was at a record $11,637.
"In real term, that's well above levels in previous years when all our universities were running surpluses,” he said.
"Total federal funding has grown as universities seized the opportunity to write their own cheques by rapidly increasing student numbers with no constraints.
"Student numbers have consequently surged, with domestic undergraduate enrolments growing by 33 per cent between 2009 and 2016, from 594,408 to 789,518.”
According to Mr Birmingham, as student funding grew 15 per cent, costs for universities to deliver courses only increased by 9.5 per cent.
"Indeed, independent analysis from Deloitte highlights that universities divert 15 per cent of the funding taxpayers give them for teaching to other endeavours, like administration and marketing. That's more than doubled from just 6 per cent in 2010,” Mr Birmingham said.
"The Turnbull Government's plan to freeze just one stream of university funding for two years still means universities can enrol more students by making use of that 15 per cent teaching funding they appear to have been diverting.
"There is no reason that universities could not tap into that funding and grow enrolments in courses they see as having strong employment outcomes.
"Universities should be asking themselves what their spending priorities are if not to use the record funding we've been providing to best support their students.”
Mr Birmingham said the freeze will deliver long-term financial sustainability for universities by focusing more on student outcomes.
The Education minister has also cited the Labor party's previous plans to "set higher education financing on a more sustainable path when they proposed $6.6 billion of cuts”.
Under the Turnbull government, Mr Birmingham said in 2018, more than $10.7 billion will be provided for funding Australian universities for teaching, learning and research.
"This will continue to grow by 8 per cent to $11.5 billion in 2021, and we also stand ready to support students through loans for their tuition fees,” Mr Birmingham said.
"With $50 billion in outstanding taxpayer-funded student loans sitting on the Government's books and around a quarter of that not expected to be repaid, we also think it's reasonable that people start repaying those loans when they start earning $45,000 at a rate of just one per cent.
"That's less than $9 a week and it will help reduce the growing burden of unpaid student loans on taxpayers.
"Australia has some of the world's leading universities, but it's time to take stock and set our system on a path that will keep delivering benefits for this and future generations of students.”