The discussion focussed on the impact of the proposals on students.
There was unanimous opposition to the proposals to cut university funding and lift student fees.
With this proposal, the Government is asking students to pay more to get less – as quality erodes with continuing cuts in government funding.
Vice-Chancellors expressed deep concern about the impact of cuts to public investment in universities and fee rises on their students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They were also concerned about the impact of the proposals over time on the broader viability of Australia’s university system – and the cost of that risk to Australia’s future growth and prosperity.
Universities Australia Chair Professor Margaret Gardner said the package proposed a “double whammy” on students – both by lifting fees and eroding funding for courses, student learning and student support.
“Students and graduates will be carrying higher levels of debt into an increasingly uncertain future,” she said.
There was support for positive elements of the package, including legislative protection for the student equity program HEPPP, and expanding the demand driven system to associate degrees.
These have been the subject of longstanding advocacy by the sector.
Beyond the proposed cuts and fee increases, there are other elements of the proposals that are cause for concern.
The legislation – tabled in Parliament last Thursday – also proposes moving to a voucher system for allocating postgraduate places and withholding ‘performance’ funding at Ministerial discretion, without any clarity about the ‘problem’ to be solved.
The legislation would also hard-wire continuing cuts into university funding in perpetuity.
These are far-reaching changes that would fundamentally alter the nature of the university system.
An overwhelming majority of Vice-Chancellors agreed they could not recommend that the Senate crossbench pass the legislative package.
Cuts to universities are not in Australia’s interests, nor in the interests of Australia’s students.