Universities Australia Chair Professor Margaret Gardner said the move would leave university funding “frozen in time” – and the blow would be hardest in areas where university attainment is lowest – such as regional Australia.
“Under this freeze, even if a university simply seeks to maintain its current number of students, this would mean a real cut,” she said.
“And for universities that are still growing their student numbers to meet the needs in their local communities and regional economies, this will be an even deeper cut.”
Australians who live in regional areas are only half as likely to have a degree as city dwellers.
The revised proposals unveiled today would also make students repay loans earlier – once they earn $45,000 a year, down from around $52,000 in mid-2018.
And they would impose a new lifetime limit on HECS-HELP loans, capping the amount students can accrue at $104,440 – or $150,000 for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.
“Australian students already pay a significant share of their higher education costs compared to many other nations, and we share the concerns of our students about this proposal.”
We welcome the Government’s decisions to spare the student equity program HEPPP and research funding from further cuts.
“That recognises the importance of the flagship equity program to ensure students from poorer backgrounds can go to university and the fact that the funds we spend on research today will create a better future and tomorrow’s jobs,” Professor Gardner said.
The sector will closely monitor the impact of the Government’s decision to reduce domestic postgraduate coursework numbers by 3000 places.
Professor Gardner said a dollar cap on student places — an effective cut of around $2.1 billion — would result in a smaller share of Australians having the chance of a university education in future.
“The decision to uncap student places in Australia was an historic reform that lifted skilled graduate numbers to meet Australia’s labour force needs and contributed to social inclusion,” she said.
In October this year, Parliament did not support the Government’s proposals to cut $2.8 billion from universities and students.
A freeze at 2017 levels will mean funding falls behind CPI increases.
We are concerned that the Government’s proposal to cap growth across the board — and only resume increases in line with population growth from 2020 — will hamper efforts to ensure Australians in all parts of the country have fair access to university.
“A freeze will put budget pressure on universities to offer fewer places in courses that are expensive to teach but hugely needed such as nursing, science and engineering.”
“Economists and experts are already warning about skills shortages in these critical areas and yet, this decision will end up restricting access to the kinds of courses we need the most.”
We will scrutinise the detail of these announcements carefully and consult closely with our members about the impact on students, staff and universities.