Former Deputy Nationals Leader Fiona Nash has been appointed as Australia’s first Regional Education Commissioner to “bring a national focus and direction for regional and remote education”.
Reports have shown that student outcomes, teacher retention and school resourcing in regional and remote schools lag far behind metropolitan schools.
To address this, the Federal Government has been increasing funding for regional and remote schools. Of the $315bn for school recurrent funding from 2018-2029, $71bn has been put aside for regional and remote schools.
However, there have been concerns that these schools have been underrepresented in the broader discourse around improving Australia’s education system – and this is something the government has aimed to address with the appointment of Nash, who has been the strategic adviser for regional engagement and government relations at Charles Sturt University since 2018.
This year, Nash became a director of the NSW Skills Board – a position likely to inform her approach to closing the growing skills gap between regional and metropolitan students.
‘A national focus and direction’
Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie said that in her three-year role, Nash will oversee implementation of recommendations from the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy (the Napthine Review).
“The role of the Commissioner will bring a national focus and direction for regional and remote education and champion the educational needs of students in regional communities,” McKenzie said.
“This will include advocating for the improvement of education policies spanning early childhood education and care, schools, and tertiary education to better support regional, rural and remote students.”
Nash said she welcomed the opportunity to work with governments at all levels as well as peak education organisations and regional and remote communities to improve educational outcomes for students.
“The Napthine Review identified country Australians are less than half as likely to obtain a university degree by the age of 35, compared to those in our cities,” Nash said.
“There are many factors that contribute to this gap, and I welcome the opportunity to work to ensure every Australian has the option to access and benefit from a high-quality education, regardless of where they live.”
National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) executive director Jacinta Collins welcomed Nash’s appointment, saying it would help support better outcomes for regional, rural and remote education. Nearly 40% of Australia’s 1,755 Catholic schools are based in regional, rural and remote areas.
“We know that students outside of metropolitan areas are not performing as well as their peers in the cities,” Collins said, adding that 2019 NAPLAN data shows students in very remote areas are about three years behind their peers in major cities.
“The Commissioner’s appointment will bring a greater national focus to the challenges facing schools in our regional, rural and remote areas and the educational disadvantage students experience.”
The Independent Schools Australia (ISA) also welcomed Nash’s appointment. ISA CEO Margery Evans said the new Commissioner role brings “a welcome focus to education outside metropolitan areas and can help reduce the disparity between the outcomes of city and country students”.
“Wherever students live and study, they deserve equitable access to education,” Evans said.
“We look forward to working with Ms Nash in her new role as Regional Education Commissioner.”