Pay for placements announced

The federal government has announced that student teachers, social workers, nurses and midwives will be eligible for a new Commonwealth Prac Payment while on placement.

The scheme, which was unveiled ahead of the May budget, is an effort to address ‘placement poverty’ – the financial hardship many students experience while balancing mandatory unpaid placements with the rising cost of living.

In July 2025, eligible students will receive a means-tested payment of $319.20 a week while on placement. “We’re funding support for placements so our future nurses, teachers and social workers can gain the experience they need,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

Over the last year, calls for paid placements have grown louder. In February, the Australian Universities Accord, a review of higher education, recommended that the government fund paid placements.

A nationwide campaign from grassroots collective Students Against Placement Poverty (SAPP) drew attention to the issue, as well as support from unions. Representatives from the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch stood alongside students at a rally in Sydney in November 2023.

Last year, the IEUA, the IEU’s federal union, called for financial support for education students undertaking their placements. The union has welcomed the government’s announcement, with Federal Secretary Brad Hayes calling it “a crucial step towards improving teacher graduation rates and building a more secure pathway for new teachers preparing to enter the profession”.

Early childhood education student and IEU member Rachel Peninton is also pleased to see the government funding placements. “I think it’s a good start,” said Peninton, who has worked in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector for almost 20 years.

The single mother studies part-time while teaching at a preschool and working as the centre’s Co-Director and Educational Leader. Her first practicum involved a month of unpaid full-time work. She told her employer she didn’t think she’d be able to make it through unpaid.

“I got to the point where, I mean, I’ve got a mortgage, I’m a single parent, so I can’t afford to not get a wage,” said Peninton.

Peninton’s employer agreed to pay her regular wages while she was on placement. She knows others aren’t so lucky, with placement poverty causing some education students to drop out, exacerbating the teacher shortage.

“You have services that don’t have enough qualified staff who have really dedicated, passionate professional people that just can’t finish that degree, which is a real shame, especially in rural areas,” Penington said.

While she is glad the government will fund paid placements, Penington doubts she would qualify under means-testing, and believes the payment is insufficient. A few hundred dollars a week “isn’t going to pay my mortgage, my electricity bills, my food bills. It’s not enough to live off”, she said.

Still, Peninton is glad that her sector is included in the program. The Department of Education confirmed to the IEU that early childhood education students will be eligible for the new payments. Students in some disciplines, including medicine and psychology, are not included.

The IEU supports paid placements for students studying education degrees and those studying to enter other essential services.

Lucy Meyer