The Australian Government supports improved educational access for Indigenous Australians, particularly those people living in remote and regional areas where educational opportunities may be limited.
Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study mixed-mode or distance education is available through two different Away from Base (AFB) programs administered by Services Australia and the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).
The AFB programs assists higher education and training providers with the cost of meals, accommodation and travel to support Indigenous students who study via mixed-mode or distance education who need to travel away from home for short periods to undertake their studies.
A ‘mixed-mode’ course is a nationally accredited course that is delivered through a combination of distance education and face-to-face residential teaching. AFB funding is not available for students enrolled in fulltime on campus, nor does it cover any course delivery costs.
Services Australia, with policy oversight from the Department of Social Services (DSS), is responsible for the administration and delivery of the AFB Assistance program through the ABSTUDY Scheme. Students can access travel support through Services Australia or through their educational institution. For information on that program please view the ABSTUDY Policy Manual.
The NIAA AFB program supports Indigenous students who are studying an approved mixed-mode course by distance education. It provides assistance to access compulsory course elements in another location away from their permanent home for short periods of time. AFB funding is provided directly to eligible higher education and not-for-profit Registered Training Organisations.
Students can only be supported under one AFB program. They cannot receive support under the NIAA AFB program and the AFB support available under the ABSTUDY scheme.
Evaluation of the Away from Base Programs
The NIAA commissioned an evaluation of the AFB programs that was completed in 2021. The evaluation assessed the extent to which the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying via mixed-mode are met through the Government’s AFB programs. The evaluation also assessed the administrative effectiveness and efficiency of the programs.
The Evaluation of the Away from Base Program – Final Report provides 11 findings and 8 recommendations in relation to the two current AFB programs. See The final Evaluation Report.
The Evaluation Report found that:
- Both programs supporting Indigenous students studying via mixed-mode, are positively contributing to student access to educational opportunities and meeting the intent of the programs.
- Face-to-face learning activities increase the likelihood of student course completions and improve student social and emotional wellbeing.
- Students continue to experience a range of barriers accessing tertiary education, particularly students from regional, remote and very remote locations and communities.
The Evaluation Report recommended:
- A range of practical measures to help improve both the NIAA and Services Australia/DSS AFB programs, including improved communication, a review of payment arrangements and processing practices.
- Improvements to the cultural appropriateness of the AFB program through better processes for student communication with Services Australia and ABSTUDY, and to review how travel is arranged to meet the needs of students with complex travel arrangements.
- The NIAA, DSS and Services Australia consider amalgamating both AFB programs into one to reduce duplication of services, provide greater consistency in administration and client experience, and improve data collection to help inform future policy.
The NIAA, DSS and Services Australia welcome the Evaluation Report, and its observations of both Away from Base programs.
The agencies are carefully considering the 11 findings and 8 recommendations from the Report. During 2022, the agencies will be consulting with relevant stakeholders on the recommendations, how they can be addressed and the impact on students.