The Senate rose last night without debating the higher education legislation, which would impose a $2.8 billion cut on universities and students – on top of almost $4 billion in cuts since 2011.
The Senate is not scheduled to sit again until the week of October 16.
“The Senate will not consider the legislation now for at least another four weeks,” said Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson.
“Even if the fate of the Bill is decided then, it will be too late for universities to provide accurate information on courses and fees for 2018 – which future students are seeking right now.”
Most prospective university students apply to admissions centres before the end of September.
“The uncertainty has caused stress and confusion for students. We’re already hearing of double-digit declines in mature-age student applications,” Ms Robinson said.
“It’s not fair to expect students to apply for university without knowing what fees they will pay in 2018 or even whether the subjects they hope to study will still be available by the time they arrive.”
Universities have also had a growing number of calls from alarmed permanent residents, many of them New Zealanders, about the Government’s proposal to have them pay full fees.
This uncertainty for students is at odds with the Government’s own stated commitment – shared by universities – to ensure greater clarity and consistency in university admissions information.
“We call on the Government to declare that any changes made to the higher education system would not commence prior to 1 January 2019.”
“The funding Sword of Damocles has been hovering over the heads of universities for almost four years now,” Ms Robinson said.
“Once again, universities find themselves struggling to finalise budgets and course offerings for next year – this time with 10 per cent of their anticipated revenue hanging in the balance.”
Ms Robinson said no university wanted to sack staff, reduce student support services or close courses when the fate of the bill has yet to be determined.