7 May 2024

Commonwealth Prac Payment scheme to support students in placement training

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Trainee nurses

More than 73,000 trainee nurses, midwives, teachers and social workers will be eligible for the Prac Payment. Photo: NSW Health.

Trainee nurses and midwives, teachers and social workers completing work placements as part of their university and vocational education and training qualifications will now have more financial support thanks to a new Federal Government program in next week’s Budget.

Dubbed the Commonwealth Prac Payment, the program will support 68,000 eligible higher education students and more than 5000 VET students undertaking the mandatory workplace placements each year to the tune of $319.50 a week.

That payment amount is benchmarked to the single Austudy weekly rate and is designed to provide cost-of-living relief for many students. It will be means-tested, available from 1 July, 2025, and paid in addition to any income support a student may also receive.

It comes just a day after the Government announced it will align the HELP indexation rate with the lower of either the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Wage Price Index (WPI), instead of the CPI as it currently stands, and will backdate the changes to 1 June, 2023.

The introduction of the Prac Payment comes from recommendations provided by the Universities Accord report – a 12-month review of Australia’s higher education system led by a panel of eminent Australians and chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane, and which was handed down in February – and the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce.

The initiative is designed to ease the care and teaching workforce skills shortages identified in the government’s Employment White Paper, and to assist more students to begin and complete their studies.

The government says that, with the majority of students and workers in these fields being women, the payment also helps implement its Working for Women gender-equality strategy. It will also support the pipeline of social workers available to support those affected by family, domestic and sexual violence.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said teachers gave children the best start in life and deserved a fair start to their careers.

“We’re proud to be backing the hard work and aspiration of Australians looking to better themselves by studying at university,” he said.

“We’re funding support for placements so our future nurses, teachers and social workers can gain the experience they need.”

Minister for Education Jason Clare said the new payment would give people who had signed up to do some of the most important jobs in Australia extra help to gain the qualifications they needed.

“This is practical support for practical training,” he said.

“Placement poverty is a real thing. I have met students who told me they can afford to go to uni, but they can’t afford to do the prac.”

Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said the Prac Payment was in addition to the government’s investment in fee-free TAFE, which was supporting students to obtain Division 2 nursing qualifications and helping to address skills shortages in aged and health care.

“This is an additional payment to support nursing TAFE students, who have extra costs such as uniforms, travel, temporary accommodation or child care, during mandatory clinical placements,” he said.

“We are making it more accessible for people right across the country for people to get the skills they need to attain jobs in areas of high demand.”

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Universities Australia CEO Luke Sheehy welcomed the Prac Payments, saying monetary support for students undertaking compulsory work placements across teaching, nursing, midwifery and social work disciplines was another important action in easing financial pressures.

“We know a lot of students are doing it tough with the current cost-of-living pressures creating more financial barriers to study,” he said.

“The Albanese Government is listening and acting on these issues, putting students front and centre with changes to make HELP repayments simpler and fairer and funding for paid placements, as recommended by the Australian Universities Accord panel.

“Universities Australia has called on the government to prioritise student support measures in the May Budget and we strongly welcome the financial assistance announced this weekend.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) echoed Universities Australia’s comments, saying teachers, nurses, midwives and social workers had faced significant financial challenges during their clinical and professional placement periods, contributing to long-term workforce shortages in these critical fields.

“Unions welcome the government reducing cost-of-living pressures for nursing, teaching and social work students,” ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said.

“For too long, students pursuing careers in critical fields have struggled to make ends meet during their placement periods. The Commonwealth Prac Payment will ensure that Australians aren’t held back from completing their studies because of financial insecurity.”

Original Article published by Andrew McLaughlin on PS News.

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