Commenting on the Minister’s speech to the National Press Club today, Universities Australia (UA) Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said: “While the Government has made clear that it intends to introduce the package to the Parliament in its current form, UA will be meeting with Senators to encourage them to consider changes in key areas.”
UA agrees with the Minister that changes are required to prevent Australia being left behind in the ever-intensifying competitive global higher education environment.
“An innovative, high quality, accessible and affordable higher education system not only provides life-changing opportunities for individuals but is a critical driver of national productivity and prosperity,” Ms Robinson said.
UA will be calling on Senators to consider improvements to the package including in three key areas:
- The magnitude of the proposed 20 per cent cut in the Government contribution to tuition fees;
- Improving the fairness of the student loans scheme and ensuring that it is affordable for both students and the taxpayer; and
- A package to address potential market failures particularly for institutions that serve disadvantaged and regional students.
The sector has seen a steady decline in per student funding by successive governments, despite the Bradley and Lomax-Smith reviews into the university system finding it requires more public investment.
“The 20 per cent cut translates into almost $2 billion being stripped from the sector, obliging universities to increase fees by an average of 30 per cent just to compensate for the proposed Government cut.
“For this package to take its place in the history books of policy reform, as something more than a veneer for shifting costs from the Government to students, moderating the 20 per cent cut is needed.
“UA has also long been part of the chorus calling for change to the proposal to index student loans at the long-term bond rate capped at six per cent.
“A number of excellent alternatives have recently been fed into the mix and UA will be encouraging the Senate to give these close attention,” said Ms Robinson.
In pointing to the disproportionate impact that the reforms are likely to have on regional communities and the universities that serve them, UA will be encouraging Senators to require the development of a package to ensure that regional communities and disadvantaged students can continue to be well-served by their local universities.
The Minister’s announcement that the Government is reviewing the financial viability of research infrastructure has been warmly received by the sector.
“The budget only funds nationally significant research infrastructure for one additional year. These critical facilities provide the under-pinning of Australia’s research capability. Without them, our research system will erode and our global standing as a research nation, diminish.
“Students, their families and universities can be assured that over the coming months, Universities Australia will be doing all it can to make sure that Australia continues to enjoy an enviable higher education reputation and that a university degree will continue to be affordable and accessible,” said Ms Robinson.