POSITIVE POLICY

Debt-free STEM Degrees

International research suggests 75 per cent of the fastest-growing occupations now require STEM skills and knowledge. Employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations.

In his 2014 report Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths: Australia’s Future, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb called on the Federal Government to “Support the national interest by maintaining the pipeline of STEM graduates, and increase the recognition of STEM education and careers as a public good."

The Chief Scientist recognised that economic growth cannot be sustained without inquiring and capable people, a steady pipeline of specialist STEM skills in the workforce, and general science and mathematical literacy in the community.

Labor agrees. That is why we will make a university STEM degree more attractive than ever before, representing a major step towards delivering the high-skilled graduate workforce our country needs.

We will provide a financial incentive for students to enrol in, and complete, a STEM undergraduate degree, in recognition of the significant public benefit of growing Australia’s STEM capacity.

Labor will offer 20,000 STEM Award Degrees a year for five years. Upon graduation, the entire HECS-HELP debt will be written off, meaning these students can graduate debt free.

At present, an average science graduate will take eight years to pay off the $44,000 HECS debt they leave university with.

A Labor Government will give the next generation of Australians an incentive to undertake STEM degrees and offer them a head start in their working life, free of student debt. This policy will take effect in the 2017 school year.

Previous incentives to study STEM subjects have been small, piecemeal and largely unsuccessful. The STEM degree scholarships will provide incentives with a different scale and scope.

This policy reflects Labor’s focus for higher education: structuring assistance to encourage and incentivise completions at university. Students will continue to accrue their HECS-HELP debt as normal, so a failure to graduate will see them retain that liability.

The policy will also reflect Labor’s equity objectives, with the selection criteria to target increasing enrolments in underrepresented groups like women. With women representing only 20 per cent of engineering and related technologies enrolments, and 14 per cent of information technology enrolments, boosting the representation of women in STEM degrees is a serious priority.

Labor will consult with the Chief Scientist, and work with universities and State Governments to develop selection criteria  around access to the scheme, the eligible courses and use of the grants.

This policy will seek to encourage universities to work with schools and TAFEs to target students in their last two years of their schooling or TAFE, with an emphasis in boosting the number of STEM students from underrepresented groups such as women, Indigenous, regional and lower SES backgrounds.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has costed our plan to boost the number of students doing STEM degrees at $45 million over the next four years.

 More information about Labor’s positive plan is available here.