Upfront technology costs including access to the National Broadband Network (NBN) should be part of the Federal Government’s deferred education fee payment scheme for university students, according to Monash University.
Australian universities already receive high-speed Internet connections through the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) and the Victorian Education and Research Network (VERNet).
Monash University in Melbourne, a proponent for the NBN, boasts a 10Gbps fibre connection but is concerned institutions and individuals outside the higher education sector do not share this luxury of super-fast broadband.
At a parliamentary inquiry hearing on the potential use of the NBN in Melbourne, Monash University deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Adam Shoemaker, was particularly concerned by the disparate broadband speeds students have access to as they enter and leave campus.
He referred to research by the university which showed 60 per cent of students had their own personal device to access the Internet, 35 per cent shared a device in the home while five per cent of students had nothing at all.
All of these students had varying capabilities to access high-speed broadband yet they all paid the same fees, Professor Shoemaker said.
“We want to find a solution to this problem,” he said. “One proposal we are working on in a policy sense is whether it is possible to, in tandem the NBN rollout, develop a system to bundle all upfront technology costs of study into deferred HECS [Higher Education Contribution Scheme].
“For example, broadband access cost, device cost and cost for maintaining an Internet subscription.”
HECS allows local students to defer payment of their tertiary education fees which can be repaid through the tax system once their income reaches a certain threshold.
Shoemaker also saw the NBN as an incentive for international students to study in Australia.
“Certainly as a competitive nation we want to take the lead because [the tertiary education] industry is the top 3-4 international exports for this country,” he said. “We are not a minor player and anything that enhances the capacity of this industry is going to enhance Australia’s national revenues.”
Beyond aiding students, the NBN will facilitate information sharing between Monash University and its partners including a number of hospitals, Shoemaker said at the hearing. These partners often have inferior Internet connections compared to the university which makes transmitting files and data a headache.
The House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications hearing on the role and potential of the NBN is still in progress.
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