Imagine if we told politicians: "you're not getting paid for the next few months. You're still expected to do your full workload, but we just won't pay you for it."
I don't think they'd go for that. And I reckon most people would think it's a pretty unreasonable thing to ask.
So why do we expect students to do it?
Students have told me it's one of the most important parts of their education. And it makes sense - you wouldn't want a nurse taking your blood when it's the first time they've ever put a needle in someone's arm.
But these placements are the equivalent of full-time work. It's near impossible to hold down a paying job outside of them. Some of the areas that I've mentioned are where we are currently struggling the most with critical workforce shortages.
We're screaming out for people to go and study these degrees. We should be doing everything we can to encourage people to take up these careers.
You know what doesn't encourage people? You know what actually turns people away from finishing their degrees and entering these careers?
Making them choose between buying groceries and paying rent.
Making them turn down their regular part-time or casual job for three or so months, risking their future income.
Students from regional areas can be some of the most disadvantaged. They often have to fork out for transport, parking and accommodation costs to do the placement, on top of undertaking an unpaid placement.
It's been said time and again, but we're in a cost-of-living crisis. It's clear that we can't keep asking people to work for free when all they're trying to do is seek an education.
At the moment, we're saying to prospective nurses and teachers that unless you can live with no income for a few months, then you can't do the job.
I don't think that stacks up.
The recently released employment white paper sets out goals to build our future workforce. It pointed to unpaid student placements as a major problem. The Universities Accord interim report echoed this. It's clear it's time for the federal government to come up with a solution to stop haemorrhaging students in these sectors.
It's already been suggested that maybe we could look at expanding Youth Allowance or Austudy. But I think any increase like this would be marginal, and it wouldn't go far enough in supporting students and providers. And not all students can access Youth Allowance or Austudy to begin with.
Here's what I think we can do.
The federal government should give funding directly to placement providers to pay students for their placement work. The providers can decide what wage they want to offer students. But they'd be required to pass on at least minimum wage.
We don't want businesses to stop taking on placement students if they can't afford to pay them on top of all their other bills. So part of the funding from the government should be a kick back to the provider for taking on student workers. The government already offers incentives for companies that take on apprentices. This scheme could be similar.
These payments would be passed on to both public and private placement providers, as long as these providers meet the required educational standards to host a placement.
Universities should adjust to a new model too. If students are out in the field, it means they're not sitting in the classroom doing lectures and requiring university resources.
A cap of 25 should be placed on per cent universities for all practical placement units. This stops universities making money off students for units where the bulk of the learning is provided by an external organisation or institution.
It's pretty clear that we need to reform the way mandatory practical placements are done. If people want to work in these fields, we should be rolling out the welcome mat. Not making it impossible for them to succeed before they even start.
Our first message to new students shouldn't be: "you don't deserve to be paid".
- Tammy Tyrrell is a Jacqui Lambie Network senator for Tasmania.