This is the centrepiece warning of Universities Australia’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the Government’s Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014, which was made public by the Senate Committee this afternoon.
“Against a backdrop of successive governments unable or unwilling to invest in universities and research at the level needed to keep the system strong in an increasingly intense and globally competitive environment, a new approach is required,” said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia.
“With amendments to improve fairness and affordability for students, the Bill will allow universities to build more predictable and durable business models, less vulnerable to government funding instability and frequently changing policy and budget priorities,” Ms Robinson said.
Australia is now in second last place amongst developed countries for the level of public investment in tertiary education (30th out of 31 OECD countries), and public investment per student has declined in real terms by 16.7 per cent between 1994 and 2012.
“Australia’s university sector is approaching a crossroads. Our universities will increasingly struggle to meet the quality and performance expectations of students, and our national research capability will continue to erode, if funding remains inadequate,” said Ms Robinson.
“An under-funded university system isn’t serving students, it isn’t serving families, and it certainly isn’t serving our economy or Australia’s ability to remain globally competitive. Australia can’t afford to be left behind.”
Ms Robinson said opposing the Bill was not a solution – it would simply defer indefinitely a problem that previous governments had failed to adequately address.
“We may not get another shot at this for some time. We are urging Senators to pass the Bill with amendments, including to:
- reduce the magnitude of the 20 per cent cut in the government contribution to relieve upward pressure on fee price;
- maintain the CPI interest rate on student loans; and
- provide for an adjustment package to assist with the transition to a market-based system.
“In amending and passing the Bill, Senators will create a legacy in having shaped and positioned Australia’s higher education system for delivering long-term national productivity and prosperity”.