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Cost of University course for Australians experiencing disadvantage has potential to offset three times its value in savings to the community

The first economic analysis of a groundbreaking university course for Australians experiencing multiple disadvantage has found potential savings of $14, 624 per annum to the community for every student who participated. This is nearly three times what it costs to deliver the program.

Indicative results from 18 students who completed in-depth surveys over a period of time at three Catalyst Clemente study sites found that close to two-thirds (60 per cent) of the costs of running the Catalyst-Clemente program, a Liberal Arts course for people struggling with homelessness, mental illness or long-term unemployment were, in actual practice, offset by savings to government in the areas of health and justice functions. This points to a relatively high realisation of potential savings. As Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University says, ‘Good works do pay.’

‘We’re part of our own solution’ reports on findings that are a culmination of three years research and have significant implications for Australia’s national higher education and social inclusion agenda with the authors of the report recommending the Commonwealth Government fund community embedded socially supported learning across Australia [http:\].

Ongoing research confirms the role of education as being valuable in itself as well as a means to effect change in the lives of people experiencing multiple disadvantage and social isolation.

According to the study, comprising surveys and in-depth interviews with Catalyst-Clemente students across three campuses, plus a subsequent economic analysis, after one year, the students reported a decrease in both overall health and justice costs.

St Vincent de Paul Society’s CEO, Dr John Falzon, said this is an amazing result when you consider on entry to study these students have medical and justice costs significantly higher than those of the general population, particularly in the health domain.

“The study also found that after 12 months Catalyst-Clemente students had developed better time management, planning, communication and writing skills. Students report a significant increase in the skills development to cope with a crisis, and they are less socially isolated than on entry,” Dr Falzon said.

Associate Professor Peter Howard, ACU’s National Leader of Catalyst-Clemente, said with the right structures and resourcing this unique model of education, which focuses on humanities subjects such as history and literature had the potential to reach even more people, who would normally miss out.

“In 2012, nearly one million Australians aged from 18 to 64 experience multiple disadvantage due to adversity across a range of life areas. We know education is one of the key determinants of health, wellbeing and resilience,” Professor Howard said.

According to Mission Australia’s CEO, Toby Hall, Catalyst-Clemente empowers students to access education and engage in activities that lead to social interaction, learning and community participation.

“For these students change has been shown to be possible despite significant structural barriers,” Mr Hall said.

“Profile data of Catalyst-Clemente students shows that on entry to study they are faring significantly worse than other Australians in a range of areas including health, employment and financial situation. In the year prior to entering the study two in five students had to go without food when hungry.”

Professor Howard said foundational to any such program is an emphasis on values of respect and acceptance through non-judgemental teaching approach.

“The partnership of the different stakeholders, including students, community agencies, universities, business and community is a key component to ensuring the availability of the program.”

The Catalyst-Clemente study was funded through an Australian Research Council grant and involved academic partners from Australian Catholic University, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, and the University of Western Australia, in collaboration with Mission Australia and the National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

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