La Trobe to pay $5000 to students to Bendigo amid 'brain drain' to Melbourne

A UNIVERSITY'S plan to pay the best and brightest $5000 a year to study in Bendigo comes after a sector-wide drop in regional student numbers.

Australia's regional student enrollments fell 1.2 per cent in semester 1, 2018.

It is the only time that has happened in a decade that saw 38 per cent growth to 2017, federal education department data shows.

La Trobe University wants to entice top-performing regional school leavers away from Melbourne and into campuses at Bendigo, Mildura, Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga, vice chancellor John Dewar said.

Those with ATAR scores of 80 or more (out of 100) will get $2000 a year. Those with 95 or more will get $5000.

"We think it's really important that they stay. We know that 80 per cent of students who study at a regional campus will stay in a regional area," Professor Dewar said.

"If they go to Melbourne, the chances are they won't come back."

John Dewar. Picture: Jodie Donnellan

John Dewar. Picture: Jodie Donnellan

La Trobe's Melbourne campuses are growing at a greater rate than in regional Victoria, even though there is just as much demand for degree level qualifications in places like Bendigo, Professor Dewar said.

"We haven't gone backwards (in regional Victoria), but we haven't grown as fast as we would like," he said.

Growth at the Bendigo campus been slight, in part because of federal government reforms to student loans, Professor Dewar said.

The government in 2017 started unwinding a system that encouraged universities to enroll as many students as the market allowed.

The then-education minister Simon Birmingham argued the time that the boom that came when the system was introduced had stagnated.

He capped funding growth to the growth rate of the working-age population.

Professor Dewar would like more scope to boost regional student numbers and planned to take the matter up with current education minister Dan Tehan this year.

The vice-chancellor believes Mr Tehan would be sympathetic to arguments on behalf of regional students and to suggestions about helping streamline policy decisions between states and the commonwealth.

Richard Speed. Picture: LEIGH SHARP

Richard Speed. Picture: LEIGH SHARP

In the meantime, the university hopes that offers to pay students would see another 80 sign up, the majority at its largest regional campus in Bendigo, pro vice chancellor Richard Speed said.

The payments could help students take extra nights off work for study or assist those struggling financially, he said.

"Potentially, if you are commuting, the payments could help buy a car," he said.

The payments will come on top of scholarship programs, hardship support and leadership training the university has offered in previous years, Professor Speed said.