Help support continued HEPPP funding for disadvantaged students in Higher Education

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Help support continued HEPPP funding for disadvantaged students in Higher Education

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Higher education access and success depend on equity funding

To ensure that higher education remains accessible for all capable students, especially the most disadvantaged, Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (EPHEA) are seeking a commitment from you and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to continue appropriate funding of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) in the 2016–2017 Budget and long term. The HEPPP has demonstrably contributed to widening university participation, enabling disadvantaged students to experience the transformational effects of higher education and contribute to their communities as well as national productivity. HEPPP-funded initiatives span school partnerships, scholarships, community-based learning, university transition, peer mentoring and professional learning initiatives. There is growing evidence about the impact of this important work (see detail below), but real and lasting change take time, ongoing commitment and collaboration.

Dismantling HEPPP from its current structure will potentially end the innovative and impactful work being undertaken across Australia to widen participation in higher education. It will destroy the valuable partnerships universities have developed with schools and communities, limit higher education access for the most disadvantaged students and potentially leave hundreds of skilled and committed university staff unemployed.

Who is EPHEA?
EPHEA represents over 400 members working in a range of areas to support the access and success of disadvantaged groups in higher education. Our members have firsthand experience of the difference that HEPPP funding makes to disadvantaged students’ lives by enabling access to the transformational benefits of higher education.

HEPPP is essential to improving access, retention and success for equity groups
Since 2010 the Participation component of HEPPP has increased and universities have responded by providing a range of innovative and collaborative partnerships between schools, communities and universities. These tackle low educational awareness, achievement and access; provide university immersion experiences and role model interaction; and increase students’ capacity to enrol at university. Universities have also used HEPPP funding to improve and innovate student support services, develop effective retention strategies, curriculum design and pastoral support to improve student retention and success.

Since the Partnership component of HEPPP finished in 2014, additional work across outreach and retention has been limited. However, special projects have also been developed through competitive funding by the National Priorities Pool within the HEPPP program. Again, a range of innovative and effective projects are currently underway across Australia, although the funding for NPP has also declined.

While universities have committed to continuing access and equity programs where possible, reduced funding presents significant challenges.

Across Australia HEPP-funded initiatives are having a real impact, as two recent publications from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education demonstrate:

Consistent, predictable and appropriate funding is needed to enable low-income students to access and thrive in higher education
Equity policy and funding have been features of the Australian higher education landscape for more than two decades. HEPPP was introduced in 2009 to improve access and participation by students from LSES backgrounds. This includes low-income people from regional, rural and remote areas; from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, people with a disability and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. HEPPP-funded work has had a profoundly positive impact on the participation of these groups despite the limitations of year-to-year funding.

Recent moves to reduce and even dismantle higher education funding are a relatively new and problematic development that runs contrary to the Government’s position on higher education as ‘essential to Australia’s intellectual and economic development’[1]. Without appropriate funding this significant national vision cannot be realised.

Unfortunately there are a number of funding strategies that tend in the opposite direction. The Partnership component of HEPPP ended without warning and there have been limitations to other grants available to continue valuable programs funded in this way. Significant negative changes have been made to the Commonwealth Scholarships Program which further reduces access for people from regional and rural areas and people from low socio-economic backgrounds. The conversion of Start-up Scholarships to loans significantly limits educational opportunities for people from low-income backgrounds. This decision overlooks the importance of Commonwealth Scholarships in transforming the lives of people from low-income backgrounds in accessing and thriving in Higher Education. Furthermore, because of changes made under the new Indigenous Advancement Strategy, Commonwealth Indigenous scholarships may disappear from next year, further reducing accessibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The recent review of the Disability Support Program (DSP) suggests that a proper funding commitment and support for people with disabilities is also in danger of being diluted. Other suggested changes such as dropping the HECS-HELP threshold[2] and increasing tuition fees do not consider the specific needs of equity target groups.

A recent national study funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education emphasised the importance of consistent, predictable and appropriate levels of Commonwealth income support for students by providing means-tested grants through the Centrelink system (

The need for vision

The ability for Australians, especially those from equity groups, to access higher education is a key to unlocking their own potential. The transformational benefits of higher education ripple out to families and communities. In particular, the chance for regional, rural and remote students to access an education and then return to their communities has wide benefits. By increasing the financial burden of education these changes will have a lasting detrimental impact on individuals, families and communities.

EPHEA recognises that there are challenges associated with funding a high quality Higher Education system. However, we believe that only with continued support of HEPPP and related equity programs will the Government be able to fulfil its vision and mandate for innovation and equity in Higher Education.

We urge you to support and defend HEPPP in the forthcoming budget and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues in more detail.



[2] Grattan Institute Report

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This petition had 756 supporters