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Industry welcomes Gillard training reforms

HECS-style student loans for enrolled nursing diplomas and guaranteed government-subsidised places for health assistants are among the reforms announced by the PM. By Annabel McGilvray

Nursing professional and industry groups have cautiously welcomed the increased accessibility for enrolled nursing and health assistant training in the latest vocational education changes put forward by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

HECS-style student loans for enrolled nursing diplomas and guaranteed government-subsidised places for Certificate III in Health Services Assistance are among the Skills for All Australians package announced by Gillard late last month.

“I think it will make a difference,” said Christine Anderson, president of the Enrolled Nurse Professional Association NSW. “It will entice people to go and do their enrolled nurse training if there’s more help because it’s quite an expensive course.”

Earlier this year a federal senate inquiry heard that in NSW at least, regional and rural TAFE’s have been compelled to begin offering full-fee places for enrolled nursing due to variations in government funding levels.

Without government subsidy, an enrolled nursing diploma can cost more than $15,000 to complete.

Scholarships can be accessed through the state and territory governments, but Anderson said many were unaware of their availability.

The latest announcement provides an additional $1.75 billion funding for the sector over five years and was a reaffirmation of the intention to provide additional support and places for students in the VET system that was mentioned in the 2010 budget.

However, the reforms remain dependent on receiving the support of the states at the COAG meeting in Canberra on April 13 and several states, including Western Australia and Victoria have indicated they will veto them.

Anderson said the FEE-HELP scheme is already available as a no-fee loan arrangement for those wanting to study a Diploma of Nursing (Enrolled). As with HECS, repayments are deferred until the student reaches a minimum earning threshold. In 2011-12 that threshold is $47,196.

This will be available through all approved providers that comply with forthcoming new VET training standards, not just the TAFE system.

Although government subsidies for providers recently became less consistent, demand for enrolled nursing positions has remained strong and enrolments continue to grow around the country.

Chief executive of the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC), Rod Cooke, told Nursing Review that enrolled nursing enrolments had leapt from about 9000 in 2008 to 19,310 in 2010.

“Whether this is going to continue to rise is difficult to say, but there is little doubt that the industry demand for enrolled nurses is only going to get stronger as client numbers start to exceed workforce availability,” Cooke said.

“The demand will be driven by increases in the general population and an expected decrease in the number of existing workers as they leave the industry.”

CS&HISC said that between now and 2015-16 there will be almost 50,000 extra aged and disabled carers required, together with 22,000 nursing support and personal care workers.

Despite this, Cooke said the new skills training initiative will probably only have limited impact on enrolment numbers. “Student-driven demand doesn’t usually align with industry demand or vocational opportunities.”

Beyond the reaffirmation of the loans scheme for those studying at the diploma level and above, the Skills for All Australians package provides for a guaranteed government-subsidised place for all those without a previous Certificate III qualification.

With up to $7800 in subsidy for each training place, this will open up more low-cost places for the Health Services Assistance qualification, which is another area in demand that offers a clear pathway to both enrolled nursing and registered nursing qualifications.

Anderson cautioned that regardless of the modelling by groups such as the CS&HISC, it will be important to ensure that there continue to be jobs available for those will potentially be able to complete the qualifications under the new proposals.

“Some years there seems to be a lot more places and other years there’s not. Whether people are not moving around as much as they used to – perhaps they are staying in the one spot for job security.

“I’m just hoping that if we do get this increased assistance that there are jobs that the new enrolled nurses can get.”

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