The Isolated Children's Parents' Association has flagged with the federal government a growing concern that this year's geographically isolated 'gap year' students may become ineligible for independent Youth Allowance as a result of COVID-19 job losses and decreased employment opportunities.
That in turn would affect their ability to undertake tertiary studies in 2021.
ICPA's tertiary portfolio leader Kate Thompson told last week's federal ICPA conference attendees they had written to the relevant federal minister in April, explaining that geographically isolated students hoping to qualify for Youth Allowance as an independent under the workforce participation criteria may be impacted in their capacity to earn the required 75 per cent of the National Training Wage in their nominated 14-month period.
"To date, we have not received a reply to our correspondence," she said.
Federal president Alana Moller said a lot of jobs had been lost in the hospitality and tourism areas, one of the main job sectors targeted by students working a gap year.
"It's a massive issue for our families," she said. "We've been trying to get some leeway built into the criteria so they don't become ineligible. There's no solid advice back yet for that cohort, and they need to know soon."
A statement sourced by Queensland Country Life from the Department of Social Services said that relatively few Australians under 22 years demonstrated their independence for the purpose of income support payments through the work test.
"However, the government has committed to monitoring the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as it develops to continue to provide appropriate and targeted support to Australians where needed.
"It is also worth noting that for Youth Allowance, significantly higher parental income cut-off applies for students living away from home to study and for families that have a number of children to support."
Conference attendees also heard via vice president Sally Sullivan, based in the Northern Territory, that students far away from the backstop of home were finding online tertiary study too difficult to maintain.
For example, her son Dean Sullivan had bailed out of the third year of his science degree that he was undertaking at university in Melbourne, while her daughter Margo Sullivan has been unable to continue her graduate diploma for her Bachelor of Business at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong, as residential courses kept being cancelled.
Alongside them, Ms Sullivan's neice Laura Sudholz, who had moved from NSW to complete Year 12 for family reasons, had been told she either had to do another year of study to finish her schooling in Queensland, or return to NSW.
In the face of that she opted not to finish at all.
"It shows in a small way the interruptions to educations being experienced," she said. "There are also issues of getting home for holidays, or at all."
Ms Moller said the situation experienced by secondary boarding families in term two, whereby health regulations saw lots of students unable to return to school, were extenuated in the tertiary sector.
"A lot are studying interstate because they can't get the course they need in their home state," she said.
"We're conscious that universities have offered courses online across the board, but it can be harder to manage when you're not at home with family."
In her portfolio report, Ms Thompson told conference attendees rural and remote continue to be under-represented at tertiary level, which was adversely impacting them and their communities.
"The tertiary portfolio continued their advocacy for these students with renewed vigour as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and issues were brought to our attention," she said.
"If a rural and remote student's future direction requires a tertiary education, they must be afforded the necessary assistance to achieve their goals.
"The rural and remote cohort is more likely to be willing to return to their rural and remote communities ensuring viability, economic development and resilience of these communities."