8 May 2024

Teaching and nursing students to be paid for placements, but other disciplines to miss out

| Oliver Jacques
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Lexi on an oval

Lexi Salvestro is studying teaching in Canberra. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The Albanese Government has announced it will pay university and vocational education students doing teaching, nursing, midwifery, early childhood education and social work up to $320 a week while they are doing compulsory work experience placements from July next year onwards.

However, those studying fields such as occupational therapy, speech pathology, veterinary science, engineering and clinical psychology will not be eligible for this assistance.

The new policy comes in response to growing concerns about ‘placement poverty’ for university students obliged to do unpaid work experience in schools, hospitals and non-government organisations as part of their degrees while the cost of living continues to rise.

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Lexi Salvestro, a Griffith graduate studying teaching in Canberra, said the new payment would help a lot of students.

“I’ll soon be doing a three-week placement at a school. I’ll need money for living expenses. Most of us have part-time jobs but work during school hours, so we can’t work during our placements.

“In the cities, everything costs more than it did in Griffith, especially since I was living with family back home and now have to pay for everything myself.”

Emily Vasta, a Griffith student studying occupational therapy (OT) in Albury, wondered why her peers would miss out.

“Obviously, I feel a bit disheartened; we do a lot more in terms of placements,” she said.

“There’s no time to do paid work when you’re on placement. You’re working full-time. It makes life tricky; you have to rely on your savings or try and get scholarships.”

Ms Vasta added that she was encouraged that the government had at least commenced payments for some disciplines, and hoped OTs would be added to the list in the future.

Emily in front of car

OT student Emily Vasta says the government makes it hard for people to complete their studies. Photo: Raiya Gyles.

Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA), a peak body representing her profession, echoed these sentiments.

“OTA is disappointed that at this stage, the announced funding has not included occupational therapy, nor any other registered allied health profession,” it said in a statement.

“OTA has advocated at both a state and federal level for paid clinical placements for occupational therapy students and the challenges for the sector in supporting quality clinical placements at both a state and federal level. We have also raised in a number of communications to government the increasing shortages of occupational therapists and the need for revised policies to address this.”

The practical placement payments will be means tested, meaning some students may miss out if they are earning income from other work or living at home. The details of the means testing are yet to be finalised.

According to a Federal Government media release, the new payment will provide around 68,000 eligible higher education students and more than 5000 VET students each year with $319.50 per week during their clinical and professional placement periods. It will be available from 1 July 2025 and will be in addition to any income support a student may also receive.

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