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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 78

Higher Education


Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Education. Minister, your amended higher education bill includes a minimalist structural adjustment fund. Can you please give details of how the fund will be allocated, how its impact will be measured and the expected outcomes, and will you give an assurance to the House that regional students, families, businesses and employees will not be disadvantaged by this legislation?


Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education and Training) (14:51): I can certainly give that assurance to the member for Indi. I can certainly give her that assurance that rural and regional businesses, parents, students and families will not be disadvantaged, because in fact one of the main purposes of the government's higher education reform bill is to support disadvantaged students and disadvantaged communities, and we are doing that in a number of ways. One of those the member has mentioned—the structural adjustment fund. I know that recently she conducted an educational forum in the La Trobe campus at Wodonga, and many of the people who presented and asked questions at that forum talked about the transformative impact of the government's higher education reform bill, particularly John Dewar, the vice-chancellor of La Trobe University, who talked about the massive expansion of the pathways programs, the pathways places, that would hugely advantage rural and regional Australia and give young people, who often use those programs to get into undergraduate degrees, an enormous boost. Typically, pathways programs are used by first-in-family university goers and people from rural and regional backgrounds or urban disadvantaged students. Through that expansion of the pathways programs, which will not happen without the reforms, we are supporting rural and regional Australia.

The member also mentioned the structural adjustment fund. As part of the new reform bill, picking up the concerns and interests of the crossbench in the Senate, and also my own colleagues here on the coalition side, and the crossbench in the House of Representatives, we have introduced a $100 million over three years structural adjustment fund. That is to support those universities that are in areas where there is limited capacity to expand their revenue base and they are probably not doing the expensive research that would allow them to take full advantage of the government's reform agenda. Through the structural adjustment fund, we will be able to support those universities—typically ones like Charles Sturt University, Southern Cross, the Regional Universities Network campuses. The Regional Universities Network, which represents almost all of the regional universities in Australia, said:

… RUN considers that the only way the sector can maintain quality and remain internationally competitive is through the deregulation of student fees …

The RUN universities, like all universities across Australia, recognise that the government's reform agenda in higher education is transformative and it is vital for disadvantaged students in particular to make our system the best university system in the world, with some of the best universities in the world.