Monash University is considering rolling the costs of technology devices and supporting infrastructure into tertiary education fees to help even out learning disparities for students without access to their own PCs, tablets and internet connectivity.
Should the scheme be implemented, students without access to iPads and internet access at home may be provided equal opportunities to those who do at a premium to their government-supported education fees.
During a House of Representatives committee hearing into the potential role of the National Broadband Network (NBN), Monash's deputy vice chancellor of education, Professor Adam Shoemaker, pointed to a direct correlation emerging between academic success and having access to a mobile device and connectivity.
“We see students come in on their first year… and they are on three different [learning] speeds,” he said. “The ones who come in with a device are on one speed, the ones who have to share one at home are on another, and then there’s the ones who have nothing. We want to find a solution to that problem.”
In Monash’s experience some 60 per cent of its students had access to their own device and connectivity, while 35 per cent share had to share access to a device and five per cent had no access at all in the home, Shoemaker said. As a consequence, inequities in learning were occurring despite the cost of education being equal upon all students. “They are all paying the same fees and are expecting the same career,” Shoemaker said. “So one proposal we have been trying to work on… is to build in in tandem with the NBN a kind of bundling of all the upfront technology costs for study into deferred HECS.”
The proposal, Shoemaker said, would likely involve the bundling of the costs of access to the NBN, the cost of a device, and maintenance for services provided.
“Instead of having three speeds of access and equity you will have one and a lot more productivity at the other end,” he said.
HECS, or Higher Education Contribution Scheme — now replaced by the Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) — provides government contributions to student loans and allows students to defer their tertiary education debts under an interest-free from the Federal Government under the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP).
Monash is not the only Australian university to recognise the dramatic impact higher broadband speeds and devices, in particular the iPad, are having on tertiary education. A similar concept has been floated by Curtin University CIO, Peter Nikoletatos, who late last year floated the idea of rolling the cost of the iPads and other tablet PCs into course fees.
“[These devices] are still expensive so fee paying students are more likely to bring these more readily than ones coming through the HECS systems,” he said. “We are looking at how we can deploy them to students but not give them away; be able to get a small cost back from them.
“If they don’t have some cost then the student loses that engagement as to why you gave it to them in the first place. You want to have them buy into the solution, but you don’t want to be prescriptive.”
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