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Policy position - higher education reform

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Policy Position - Higher Education reform

On the 17 March 2015 Senator Day voted in support of the Government’s proposed changes to higher education.

The bill was voted down and the Government is expected to re-introduce the bill in the winter session.

Senator Day voted in support of the bill because, like the overwhelming majority in the higher education sector recognises, the system needs reform. A broader range of study options at varied degree costs needs to be available. The system needs more funding overall to modernise, and continued and increasing funding injection from the Commonwealth is unsustainable as Commonwealth revenue substantially contracts after the mining boom.

The higher education system also needs reform because students at non-university higher education providers pay the full cost of pursuing their education choice, yet others’ education choices are heavily subsidised. This inequity is most glaring where two students study teaching at two institutions, but one gets a full fee subsidy, and the other gets none. The Government’s proposals do not bring in full equity of course funding, but reduce the subsidies given to universities, whilst for the first time addressing inequity by providing significant subsidies for non-universities (but still less than universities).

It has been said that this reform package will increase the cost of going to university. Costs for courses in the university segment of the higher education sector may increase, but non-university higher education costs will decrease as this part of the sector receives subsidy support for the first time. Senator Day has said, he is not concerned about whether the cost increases for degrees at sandstone universities with their sprawling lawns, sporting facilities and student activism; so long as there are - and will be - new courses available at low cost that provide the basic requirements necessary to get through the course and into a job.

The higher education reform proposals also shifts the system from a heavily regulated, inequitable system to a demand-driven, market model. Exposing universities to competitive forces will compel them to deliver better outcomes for their students. Universities that charge more than the market appreciates for their degrees, and are not perceived to be providing value for money (for instance, low prospects that a graduate from that institution will secure work in their field of education), will soon find declining interest in studying at their university.

For months Family First has been constructively working with the Coalition Government to support deregulation of the higher education sector. The Government wanted to lower the threshold for repaying HELP debts and increase the interest rate applied to the debt. Family First told the Government that we do not want the interest rate to change, and moved an amendment to that effect. The Government accepted this amendment, meaning the interest rate stays at CPI (roughly 2.5%). This gives past and present students almost $1 billion per annum.

Family First will continue to work with the Government on ways to ensure prospective students can make informed choices about the cost, quality and best employment outcomes from their proposed course of study. It is entirely possible to have an affordable, dynamic and reformed higher education sector.

IMAGE: John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, by Angelo Tsirekas, Wikimedia Commons

21 April 2015