Students, trainees and apprentices from remote areas were being disadvantaged by a new approach to Abstudy from the Department of Social Services, a senior health educator has warned.

Kelly Menzel, who trains students in New South Wales to go back to their communities and deliver primary health care, said many people may be unaware that the change has occurred.

Ms Menzel said in the past students travelling to cities or regional centres from remote areas were given financial help with travel, accommodation and meals. But she said in recent weeks students receiving a wage from an employer have been knocked back.

She said the cost of staying in big cities such as Sydney to study could be high and many students, most of whom were on low incomes, or their employers wouldn’t be able to afford it.

“I believe this is an onerous burden to place on both the individual and their workplace and that in the vast majority of cases the student will miss out on the training because they cannot afford it and neither can their workplace,” she said.

“We have already had students withdraw from study because of this change. I believe this to be arbitrary, unfair, unrealistic and discriminatory.”

Ms Menzel said the Department of Social Services should reverse its new stance.

A DSS spokesperson said this week that its Abstudy assistance policy was “clarified” early this year.

The spokesperson said people who were receiving training assistance for study or who were assisted by an employer through an Australian Government or state or territory government wage subsidy, were not eligible for Abstudy.

Abstudy could not be paid where it duplicates assistance provided from other sources, such as from an employer, scholarship, or government or non-government program, the spokesperson said.

But apprentices who receive training assistance for formal study or who were assisted through an Australian Government or state or territory government wage subsidy via an employer, may be eligible.

Wendy Caccetta