Universities Australia’s Chief Executive, Belinda Robinson, said that the Parliament had a once in a generation opportunity to shape an Australian higher education system that is sustainable, affordable and equitable in serving the best interests of students and the nation.
“With budgets under pressure, governments faced with a myriad of competing priorities for public funding, and successive governments being disinclined to invest at the level that repeated independent reports have shown to be needed, full deregulation of higher education is needed.
“Either the status quo of ongoing inadequate investment, or further cuts without deregulation will condemn Australia’s great university system to inevitable decline, threaten our international reputation and make it increasingly difficult for universities to meet the quality expectations of our students,” said Ms Robinson.
“In transforming lives, Australian universities transform the nation. They make for a civil society, are the lifeblood of our regions and provide the means for securing Australia’s place in the highly competitive knowledge-based global market of the future. Education is Australia’s third largest export.
“The introduction into Parliament of the Federal Government’s higher education legislation is a chance for all parliamentarians to seize the opportunity for making real, lasting changes that are needed in positioning our universities for the challenges of the future.”
In calling for cross-bench Senators to support the sector’s consensus position in favour of deregulation, Ms Robinson said that changes to the package were needed to assure affordability for both students and taxpayers.
“Under the current student loans scheme, fees are deferred until students graduate and earn over $53,000 per annum and interest is calculated at CPI. Universities Australia urges the Senate to maintain the CPI interest rate so no one with the ability to attend university is saddled with a large debt.
“Similarly we call on the Senate to moderate the size of the proposed 20 per cent cut in the Government contribution to tuition fees so as to reduce upward price pressure on fees.
“It is also critical, as with any substantial industry change brought about by changes to policy settings, that a package of support be provided to universities, particularly those that serve disadvantaged and regional communities.”
Ms Robinson said the decision to provide Federal Government funding for non-university higher education providers at 70 per cent of the subsidy for universities struck the right balance in recognising the different functions performed by non-university providers and universities.
Ms Robinson called on the Parliament to remove the ongoing uncertainty for students, universities and the broader community, by moving swiftly to approve the reforms with changes proposed by Universities Australia.