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Independents negotiate higher education benefits.



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Independents negotiate higher education benefits

Further progress has been made in negotiations with the Government over the $2.4 billion Higher Education Support Bill and associated legislation. Senator Brian Harradine welcomed the Government’s agreement to further changes that he and his three independent colleagues have worked on with the Government.

“Difficult discussions are still ongoing and there is still a chance that final agreement will not be found”, Senator Harradine said.

“By negotiating with the Government, my three colleagues and I have had the opportunity to improve the package for students, staff and the higher education sector.”

To date the Government has agreed to:

• Increase the HECS repayment threshold from the AVCC-negotiated $33,150 in 2005-06 prices to $35,000 in 2004-05 prices ($36,184 in 2005-06). In addition, the new threshold will come into force one year earlier, in 2004-05. The threshold is currently $24,365;

• Remove the interest rate charge from FEE-HELP for postgraduate students;

• Reduce the undergraduate FEE-HELP real interest rate from 3.5 per cent over ten years to an effective rate of 1.8 per cent over ten years. The 1.8 per cent interest rate will be achieved by charging students a one-off 20 per cent administration fee. This is a more progressive approach to charging interest, which will advantage those least able to manage fast repayment;

• Cut the maximum increase in HECS charges from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. This cut recognises that studies show students are not in general deterred from attending university by HECS charges, but that there should be an equitable limit to the financial contribution we expect students and their families to make;

• Establish a process to review the indexation of higher education funding, so that a basis for further Government funding increases beyond 2007 can be determined for the higher education sector. The Government has allowed HECS fees to rise on this occasion, but should take full responsibility for further funding increases for the sector beyond 2007;

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• Reduce the proposed increase in full-fee paying domestic places from 50 per cent of the total number of student places down to 35 per cent of places. The current level is 25 per cent of student places;

• Increase the student learning entitlement from 5 years to 7 years, with more time for longer courses and an appeals mechanism;

• Protect Commonwealth Learning Scholarships by ensuring they will no longer count as income in the assessment of a student’s entitlement to receive Youth Allowance. Until now, some students would lose much of the benefit of the scholarship via a reduction in their Youth Allowance; and,

• Ensure any decision by the Minister not to fund a particular course is made in the year prior to the proposed commencement of the course to minimise the impact on students.

“These changes would add up to substantial concessions to the benefit of students and staff while allowing a much needed increase in funding for the higher education sector”, Senator Harradine said.

3 December 2003

Senator Brian Harradine, Tel. 02 6277 3735