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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper


and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper



ABSTUDY provides

income support and supplementary educational assistance to Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander students. It covers 18 different types of allowances

each subject to their own conditions of eligibility. Many of them are

income tested. From 1 January 2000, the income, assets and actual means

tests applying to the Youth Allowance will apply to ABSTUDY applicants

for income-tested benefits. The most important type of allowance is the

ABSTUDY Living Allowance. The ABSTUDY 1999 Information Book, at

pages 36-40, contains 7 tables that can help a student calculate the ABSTUDY

Living Allowance for 1999.

The following information

is a summary of the Centrelink ABSTUDY 1999 Information Book. For

more details refer to the Information Book.


conditions of eligibility

To get ABSTUDY there

are three main conditions a student must meet.


An Aboriginal or

Torres Strait Islander is someone who is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait

Islander descent, identifies as an Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait

Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he/she lives

or has lived.

Studying an

approved course

The student must

be enrolled in and studying an approved course at an approved institution.

Most courses in schools, colleges, TAFEs and universities are approved

for ABSTUDY. Private (non-government) education providers are often approved

where the course leads to a recognised qualification and the institution

is an accredited education provider.

Not receiving

any other government assistance to study

The student cannot

receive any other government assistance to study while he/she receives

ABSTUDY unless he/she is a pensioner. There are exceptions for some scholarships.


kind of student?


and secondary students at home

A primary school

student must be 14 years or over at 1 January 1999 and live at home to

receive ABSTUDY. There are no age limits on secondary students.

Some primary and

secondary students living at home may be eligible for one or more of the

following allowances.

  • School Term Allowance

    if the student is under 16.

  • School Fees Allowance

    at home rate if the student is under 16.

  • Living Allowance

    at the standard rate if the student is 16 or older.

  • Incidentals Allowance

    if the student is 18 or older at 1 January.

  • Fares and residential

    costs to attend a residential school if the student is a correspondence/distance

    education student.


boarding students

Secondary Boarding

Students may be eligible for one or more of the following allowances.

  • Living Allowance

    at the away from home rate.

  • School Fees Allowance

    at the boarding rate.

  • Incidentals Allowance

    if the student is 18 or older at 1 January 1999.

  • Fares Allowance.
  • Rent Assistance

    if the student is in State care or homeless.

An under 16 boarding

supplement is payable to institutions with a minimum of 10% Indigenous

students eligible for the away rate of living allowance at the ABSTUDY

census dates.


in State care

The rate of Living

Allowance paid if the student is in State care and have reached the minimum

school leaving age is

  • the standard rate

    if the foster parent receives a Foster Care Allowance,

  • the away rate

    if the foster parent does not receive a Foster Care Allowance,

  • the independent

    rate if the student is living in a government funded refuge or residential

    care facility and the State/Territory welfare authority is not responsible

    for the student.

If no Foster Care

Allowance is paid and the student is living in private rental accommodation

he/she may be eligible for Rent Assistance.


and university students

The ABSTUDY entitlements

and the rules applied to a TAFE or university student will vary depending

on whether the student is studying a course which is classified as secondary

or tertiary. A TAFE or university student may be eligible for one or more

of the following allowances.

  • Living Allowance
  • Pensioner Education


  • Dependent Spouse


  • Rent Assistance
  • Incidentals Allowance
  • Additional Incidentals

    Allowance if tertiary

  • Fares Allowance
  • Away from Base


  • Supplement Loan

    if tertiary

  • Lawful Custody


ABSTUDY is available

to eligible students undertaking undergraduate study or higher degrees.


or independent?

In many cases it

is important to determine whether the student is to be considered independent

or dependent. A student is considered independent and may receive the

independent rate of Living Allowance if he/she

  • is 25 years or


  • is or has been


  • has or has had

    a dependent child

  • has been employed

    or looking for work for 3 out of the past 4 years

  • has previously

    been in lawful custody

  • is an orphan
  • has adult status

    in a traditional community in NT, QLD, SA or WA (the student must be

    15 years or older and have adult status in a community which follows

    a lifestyle based on coming-of-age ceremonies).

In addition to these

criteria a student may be considered independent on a reviewable basis

is he/she

  • is homeless
  • is or has been

    in State care and is living in an institution

  • has parents who

    cannot exercise care

  • has returned to

    live in an Aboriginal community

  • is in a defacto

    relationship for six months or more, or has, or defacto partner has,

    a dependent child

  • has the care of

    another person's child.

If the provisions

for independent status do not apply a student is considered dependent.

A dependent student may be eligible for the away rate of Living Allowance

if the student

  • is a secondary

    or tertiary student and is in State care,

  • has reached the

    minimum school leaving age and the student's carer is not receiving

    a Foster Care Allowance for the student, or

  • is living away

    for one of a number of specific reasons (travel time/access make daily

    travel difficult, home conditions make study difficult, the student

    is studying an approved special course).

Otherwise a dependent

student may receive the standard rate.



The ABSTUDY Living

Allowance is subject to a number of income tests.

Student income


The student income

test applies to all students unless they are

  • under 16 years
  • living in State


A student can earn

up to $6,000 a year before ABSTUDY is affected. ABSTUDY will be reduced

by $1 for every whole $2 the student earns over $6,000. If the student

receives ABSTUDY for less than a full year, the amount he/she can earn

will be proportionately less.

Parental income


How much ABSTUDY

a dependent student can receive also depends on the parents'/guardians'

income. If the adjusted family income is over $23,550 a year the annual

amount of Living Allowance is reduced by $1 for every whole $4 by which

the adjusted family income is over $23,550.

Partner income


If the student has

a married or de facto partner, the amount he/she can get also depends

on the partner's income. If the partner's adjusted income is more than

$14,850, the annual amount the student can get is reduced by $1 for every

whole $2 that the partner's adjusted income is over $14,850.


The following allowances

are available under ABSTUDY.



For full-time students

over 16 years. Income tested. The amount depends on the students age,

whether he/she is considered independent and if he/she is living at home

or away.


Spouse Allowance

May be paid if the

student has a partner and a child who are financially dependent on the



Education Supplement

To encourage some

categories of pensioners to take up full-time study.


Term Allowance

To help certain students

with expenses such as books, uniforms and other school costs. It may be

available for secondary students under 16 living at home (or not eligible

for the away or independent rates) and primary school students aged 14

on 1 January 1999. To be eligible the student must be enrolled and go

to school and

  • a parent/guardian/carer

    on whom the student is dependent qualifies for a Commonwealth pension

    or benefit, or receives a Community Development Employment Program (CDEP)

    wage (not as an administrator),

  • a parent/guardian/carer

    has a current Health Care Card,

  • the student is

    an orphan, homeless or has parents who are unable to care for him/her,


  • the student is

    in State care and living with foster parents, and has not reached the

    minimum school leaving age.

The rate is $520

a year for a student under 16 for the full academic year.


Fees Allowance - at home rate

Is paid for students

younger than 16 to help meet the costs of school fees. To be eligible

the student must enrolled and study in the term and

  • a parent/guardian/carer

    on whom the student is dependent qualifies for a Commonwealth pension

    or benefit, or receives a Community Development Employment Program (CDEP)

    wage (not as an administrator),

  • a parent/guardian/carer

    has a current Health Care Card,

  • the student is

    an orphan, homeless or has parents who are unable to care for him/her,


  • the student is

    in State care and living with foster parents.

The rate is $150

a year if the student is under 16 at 1 July 1999 and $75 if the student

turns 16 between 1 January and 30 June 1999.


Fees Allowance - for boarders

To help meet the

costs of tuition fees. It is available for secondary students who are

  • eligible for the

    away rate or

  • homeless, orphaned

    or have parents who are unable to care for them.

The actual cost of

school fees up to a maximum of $4,377 a year is payable.





May be paid to help

a student approved to live away from home to travel between the permanent

home and the place of study. It cannot be paid for daily travel.


from Base Testing and Assessment Programs

Assistance to attend

testing and assessment programs by tertiary education institutions to

interview, test or assess the suitability of applicants for a course of

study. Limits apply.


from Base Assistance for Your Course

Covers students'

fares and residential costs and enables students to participate in compulsory

residential schools, field trips, and/or placements which are necessary

to complete their course. Limits apply.



To help the student

pay for general course expenses. For all tertiary students, secondary

students who are 18 or older and full-time Masters and Doctorate students.

The maximum amount a student can receive in a year is $355.


Incidentals Allowance

For full-time students

to assist them in meeting those course costs which are essential for all

students in the course, such as textbooks or equipment, that exceed the

prescribed amount. Limits and other conditions apply.


Custody Allowance

Essential course

costs (but not living allowances) for Indigenous students in lawful custody.



For full-time students

eligible for the Masters and Doctorate living allowance who need to move

to another town or city to take up Masters or Doctorate studies.



Thesis allowance

of up to $400 for a Masters student and $800 for Doctorate students who

are in receipt of a Masters and Doctorate Award living allowance.


of Course Fees or HECS

For students in receipt

of a Masters and Doctorate Award living allowance, course fees or HECS

is payable, whichever is the lesser.



A voluntary loan

scheme for tertiary students. By trading in $1 of Living Allowance the

student receives $2 as an interest free Supplement Loan, which the student

must repay later. The Supplement Loan debt increases annually by the Consumer

Price Index.


and evidence received

School meeting, Billiluna

WA, 14 May 1999

"The students

are 16 years old when they go to the boarding schools because if they

are not 16 the parents have to subsidise the rent at the hostels to the

tune of a couple of thousand dollars a term. It would cost them more than

they would earn in a whole year. Abstudy will only pay once the children

have turned 16."

Community meeting,

Bourke NSW, 1 March 1999


was expressed at the amount of time that it took for DETYA offices to

process applications for Abstudy "There are a number of kids whose money

has not come through and that means that we have had to provide books,

pens, pencils, uniforms and shoes for kids."

"We enrolled four

kids today who came back because their money had not come through and

they could not afford to stay in a hostel. This lead time with this

money coming through is having a huge affect."

Concern was expressed

at the difficulties experienced by Indigenous children enrolled in hostels.

Late Abstudy payments and an enrolment system which requires reapplication

each year were reported to be having a negative impact on Indigenous


There was also

concern at the administration of Abstudy: "You never seem to get support

from Abstudy. I know families who have sent three applications away

in the one envelope and then two of them are lost and the other one

comes back."

Concern was expressed

at the impact of Abstudy and Austudy being means-tested. "My view is

while means testing is okay there should be still some sort of locality

provision so that it is at least recognised that you are not bypassing

a local institution; you have no choice but to send them away. If I

were living in Sydney the cost of tertiary education for my children

would have been absolutely minimal compared to what it is."

"It is frustrating,

frustrating for the parents, frustrating for the kids. I have a son

who is in university in Adelaide and Abstudy doesn't really cover all

the education. If it wasn't for me and my wife he wouldn't be able to

go through it because it's just not enough. He is living on the campus

where he pays $75 a week for renting a place. At the end of terms he

has got to wait three or four weeks before he can get Abstudy again.

We pay his way but I am just thinking about the parents around here

that haven't got that flow of money coming through all the time."

Beverley Angeles,

Indigenous Education Council, Public Hearing, Darwin NT 10 May 1999

"With the

changes to Abstudy too, with most of our Indigenous students, you'll find

that they're independent from, usually, a younger age than maybe non-Indigenous

students. I'm speaking from Alice Springs, I can't comment for here; usually

by the time they're 13 they've usually left home, staying elsewhere. So

Abstudy needs to address that issue."

Maria Stephens, Indigenous

Education Council, Public Hearing, Darwin NT, 10 May 1999

"We've had

a lot of parents actually come to us and say that they were concerned

about the effects of Abstudy on their own family resources as well. When

you have someone like - there was a gentleman, I think, who had seven

children actually in the education system and each individual child was

assessed individually against his income, rather than a bulk assessment

against his single income."

"I think one of

the major issues that has come to light recently is a letter that's

been circulating throughout the Northern Territory from Centrelink,

actually advising Aboriginal students that they only have to attend

school one day per term, which is four days a year, and they're still

entitled to their Abstudy. I think these are more the underlying problems

than the Abstudy itself."

Ron Watt, Batchelor

College, Public Hearing, Darwin NT, 1 May 1999


we're having cases of students not being accepted onto Abstudy because

they've taken too long to complete their course. For obvious reasons,

our students take much longer to complete a three-year program than three

years and we're already having Abstudy saying, 'You've been on Abstudy

too long, you can't have it any longer' to a number of students; and there

are already students not being allowed to go and do practicum because

of the number of days away from base that would involve."

Meeting with Aboriginal

Education Assistants and others, Moree NSW, 5 March 1999

Some parents

cannot access Abstudy because of the means test, even though they are

just above the poverty line. Participants feared the effects on adult

education which, to date, has produced Aboriginal Education Assistants

and teachers. Keeping Indigenous students in the education system is an

ongoing challenge. Scholarships and bursaries were suggested.

Elaine Rabbitt, Broome

campus, Edith Cowan University, Public Hearing, Perth WA, 24 May 1999


issue is that the changes in Abstudy will grossly affect, I believe, Indigenous

students, their retention rate also in secondary school, which has further

ramifications of those that will reach university. Now, we all know that

the retention rate of Indigenous students in secondary school is very

low compared to the non-Indigenous students and institutions like Edith

Cowan University have initiated teacher-training programs in rural areas.

Now, in the Broome regional campus we have got Indigenous students in,

for want of a better word, the mainstream bachelor of education program

and we've got Indigenous students in the AIEW teacher-training program.

The point I'd like to make now about the changes in Abstudy which affect

those students doing their teacher training is one that to complete a

bachelor of education the students have to go on a 10-week teaching practice.

Now, we're encouraging Indigenous students to do their teaching practice

in remote communities, in their own communities where they may come from,

or their family or to just go out to a community even if they have no

family affiliations there. It's brought to my attention this year that

through the changes to Abstudy those students that elect to go out into

the communities to do their prac teaching are only eligible for 40 days

away from home allowance. So this leaves a shortfall. If we're talking

really remote where the students can't come in on the weekends, it leaves

a shortfall of up to 30 or 40 days where there is no allowance covered

for their teaching practice. In the current situation now, some students

are experiencing severe hardship and poverty because of this, because

they want to be out in the community doing their prac teaching but the

allowance doesn't cover them."

Professor John Lester,

NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Sydney hearing, 22 October


"... because

of the diversity and distances that rural communities obviously suffer,

any change to Abstudy will have disastrous effects. You'd only have to

change the margins, and all of a sudden you disenfranchise whole groups

and whole communities from educational opportunity. That is starting to

be witnessed at tertiary institutions, which are starting to look reasonable.

Those numbers could fall and deplete very quickly in the next round of

major Abstudy changes, which are due in the year 2000, and we could actually

in fact see a whole lot of disincentives for Aboriginal people, in particular

mature-age adults attending university. Hence, that will have a disastrous

effect on local communities."

Sister Maryanne,

St Joseph's Primary School, Kununurra hearing, 17 May 1999:


forms are too hard to fill in for many of the parents. They are always

being sent back and we spend a lot of time on the phone trying to sort

out problems. We have to go through Darwin before we can talk to Perth.

All of this takes time and postpones the starting date for boarding school.

ABSTUDY can work as a disincentive for schooling. ABSTUDY A is paid for

children who stay here for school and ABSTUDY B is for children who go

away for boarding. ABSTUDY needs to be linked to attendance. Rather than

being paid twice a year, if they were paid on a bi-monthly basis then

it could be more closely linked to attendance. Centrelink really needs

to educate the communities that when they are not attending they do not

receive the ABSTUDY funding and the money is actually deducted from the

family allowance. So then the students can realise that they are actually

penalising their families. That sort of information is not readily available

until the parent receives a big bill, they get terribly upset, and then

they want to withdraw the children from school and not send any of the

others away or on to secondary school.

"For those children

who feel they must go out of town to get a secondary education, ABSTUDY

must offer more efficient and effective support. This must involve a

simpler application process and quicker response time so that students

can be there for the beginning of the school year. There needs to be

some continuity of personnel and of process."

Click here

to see ATSIC's 1998 review of changes to Abstudy.

In response to ATSIC's

critique the Minister for Education, training and Youth Affairs, Dr David

Kemp, said, "Over 80% of Abstudy students will gain, or experience no

change or minimal change as a result of new Abstudy arrangements to be

instituted from January 1 next year [ie 2000]" (media release dated 23

September 1999).

Tony Greer, DETYA,

Canberra Hearing, 26 October 1999:


were changes to the away-from-base dimension of Abstudy in the 1997 budget

context. As a consequence of that some transitional assistance was provided

through 1998 to ensure that, notwithstanding that policy change, the numbers

- whether there's six visits or what have you - were in fact maintained.

Then as a consequence of the Abstudy review and the decision that government

took on Abstudy in December 98, it was agreed that there would be a fundamental

change in the way we approach the away-from-base or mixed-mode provision

under Abstudy, in the sense that much greater flexibility and far less

prescription would attach to that.

"So that in implementing

the decisions of the 1998 Abstudy review decision, providers have now

been assessed more or less in a dollar value of what their budgets will

be for away-from-base assistance; that taken on their 1998 level of

funding which included top-ups to keep them at least I think at their

1997 level which was pre-budget. That provision is currently going through

the parliament with the Indigenous education bill, which will from January

next year provide much greater flexibility to Batchelor College, to

other colleges, to determine how many return visits etcetera the particular

students will need.

"We will be providing

not an ungenerous budget to providers, walking away from a lot of the

prescriptive business that characterised the previous guidelines, and

giving much more capacity for those colleges to manage that."

Peter Buckskin, DETYA,

Canberra Hearing, 26 October 1999:


has got to be seen - the away-from-base activity where you can either

have the students come in to the college itself or those lecturers to

go out to the site where the students actually live and are enrolled from,

is really a mode of delivery, and it should be seen - as well as being

supported by the other program that the Commonwealth runs which is ATAS

[Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme], and Batchelor College gets a

bulk allocation literally in its millions to provide support for some

of these students that are enrolled - any student that's enrolled in a

course that's having difficulty, and it's up to the college administration

when they enrol people to identify those who will be needing additional

support to complete that certificate, associate diploma, diploma or degree.

"Batchelor College

has had over two years to revamp their program, to come up to the six

trips, 40 days, and clearly they are not satisfied with the level of

funding that they've got out of Abstudy but it is based on their 98

income. It's based on the student enrolment that they had. Now, if their

student enrolment goes up, they get more money . [Mr Buckskin confirmed

that Batchelor is now at liberty to organise its courses as it sees

fit - for each course a notional allocation for 6 trips per year will

be provided by DETYA, but these can in fact be allocated as needed]

"Also we've been

entering into dialogue with a number of providers, and some providers

find this very useful because it is very flexible. You choose the company

to which - you don't have to choose Qantas like the Commonwealth. You

can go to the cheapest bidder in terms of a charter service in your

particular area, rather than go through a specific airline. How you

structure your course is up to you. It's much less rigid than it was

before, and there are some places like Deakin University, that has lots

of people from the Northern Territory, that are finding it really useful

and really welcome the changes that we brought in in 1997 because it

does provide flexibility."

Information supplied

in DETYA's submission, pages 105-108

(Attachment 4):

Abstudy - Non-metropolitan

beneficiaries and expenditures 1996-1999

Abstudy December 1996 December 1997
  Beneficiaries % Expenditure ($) % Beneficiaries % Expenditure ($) %
Metropolitan 12,895 26.4 35,047,233 28.8 13,296 26.2 39,393,529 28.8
Reg'l Centre 11,479 23.5 29,971,961 24.6 10,661 21.0 29,477,621 21.5
Country Town 19,505 40.0 45,148,459 37.1 21,100 41.6 52,637,994 38.4
Other 4,891 10.0 11,463,812 9.4 5,706 11.2 15,498,862 11.3
Total 48,769 100 121,631,466 100 50,763 100 137,008,005 100

December 1998 June 1999
Beneficiaries % Expenditure ($) % Beneficiaries % Expenditure ($) %
13,098 25.9 32,945,384 28.0 13,371 29.4 20,404,123 28.5
10,547 20.9 25,336,202 21.5 8,804 19.3 16,345,459 22.8
21,087 41.8 45,680,823 38.8 17,369 38.2 27,434,609 38.3
5,763 11.4 13,779,533 11.7 5,983 13.1 7,484,124 10.4
50,495 100 117,741,942 100 45,528  100 71,668,314 100



What is your experience


  1. If you have ever

    applied for ABSTUDY, please tell us about your experiences.

  2. Were you successful?
  3. If not, what was

    the reason?

  4. Do you think the

    ABSTUDY rules are appropriate and fair?

  5. Do you think the

    rates of allowances are adequate?

  6. Do you think the

    ABSTUDY rules are easy to understand?

Please e-mail:

Or post your comments


Rural and Remote

Education Inquiry

GPO Box 5218



updated 2 December 2001.