Young Australians living in regional areas will have access to $24 million in scholarships to undertake STEM studies as part of a new government initiative.
Announced in the federal budget on Tuesday night, the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships will provide at least 1,200 rural and regional grants for undergraduate, post-graduate and VET students to undertake science, technology, engineering and maths studies.
The students will receive up to $20,000 each for undertaking these students in “priority fields”, including STEM.
“The budget delivers on the Turnbull government’s commitment to equip Australians to meet the challenges of today, tomorrow and decades to come,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said when delivering the budget.
ACS President, Anthony Wong, said the move was a positive one. "At a time when the performance of Australian students in science and maths is declining, the ACS supports a stronger focus on building digital skills and digital literacy in Australian classrooms."
The budget also provided nearly $6 million to trial the use of digital apps to improve the literacy of children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The trial, which will begin in 2019, will be across 20 preschools and is part of the government’s efforts to close the gap.
The $30 million cash injection in STEM across all levels of education is the only new funding included in the federal budget, which saw the government emphasis its focus on this area through previously announced initiatives.
The budget includes an allocation of $16.5 million in 2017-18 for “inspiring all Australians in digital literacy and STEM”, along with a further $16.3 million in the following year. This funding boost was first announced in the government’s $1.1 billion Innovation Statement in late 2015, with the money going towards a range of initiatives aiming to help students and young Australians “embrace the digital age and increase their engagement with STEM education”.
“Students who are most at risk of falling behind in the digital age, including those in regional communities, will be given opportunities to participate and engage,” the government said.
Included in these measures is the roll out of a national online course for teachers to learn the fundamentals of digital literacy and tech, national computing challenges for high school students, and funding for partnerships between STEM professionals and schools.
The package received more than $60 million in funding across four years.
Budget papers also revealed that more than $4.5 million has been pledged across the next two years for STEM education.
Earlier this year the government announced $4 million in funding over four years for the Maker Project, a grants scheme aiming to help young children learn STEM skills. The grants of between $2000 and $5000 will go towards schools establishing designated spaces for practical STEM activities.
Grants of up to $20,000 will also be provided to community organisations to expand their existing STEM activities.
But the budget wasn’t all good news for STEM education, with the government’s planned cuts to higher education likely to impact the tech industry. As announced last week, the government is set to save nearly $3 billion from university funding cuts and fee increases for students.
As confirmed in the budget, student fees will increase by 7.5 per cent, and will begin repaying the loan at a lower threshold of $42,000 annual income. Students will also repay 10 per cent of their income, rather than 8 per cent, as part of the government’s reforms.