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Minister discusses tertiary education reforms.

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Thursday, 19 February 2004



TONY EASTLEY: The federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, stands by his tertiary education reforms. He’s attacked the board of the QUT, saying it is using a dubious argument for increasing fees by so much. He’s speaking here to our reporter, Nick Grimm.


BRENDAN NELSON: QUT will receive an extra $30 million in taxpayers’ money over the next three years, and if it is going to increase its HECS charges it needs to explain to students what they will receive in return for the additional money they may be paying once they’ve graduated and are earning more than $35,000 a year. In other words, how are students going to benefit from any increases to HECS charges at QEU?


And the other thing that—I think it’s bordering on the outrageous that any university would simply increase its HECS charges just because it wants to be seen to be a prestige institution. What will really determine the quality of the universities and how students view them will be the minimum tertiary entrance cut-off scores which the universities will be required to publish before the end of the year before the offers are made, so that QUT and the other universities will be required to send a very clear message to the community, what is the minimum academic entry required to get into that institution.


NICK GRIMM: You seem to be suggesting there that students should vote with their feet somehow.


BRENDAN NELSON: This is precisely what we’re intending. For the very first time it’s important that people understand that every university needs to sit down and work out what is the course worth, what is the capacity of students, once they’ve graduated, to make that HECS contribution, to what purpose will any increase in HECS be put, how will the students benefit in addition to the extra public money that’s going to be invested, and for students, they may well say: well look, I think I’ll go to the University of Southern Queensland.


NICK GRIMM: But, Minister, doesn’t that suggest that students have some sort of buying power in the process that many simply don’t?


BRENDAN NELSON: At the moment students have no choice in the sense that the least desirable course in the least desirable university in the country charges exactly the same as what is regarded by students to be the highest-quality course in the highest-quality institution. And what we’re trying to do is to introduce into Australian higher education a mechanism that puts the student at the centre of the experience. And if QUT is concerned about its reputation compared to other universities it should be focusing on where the additional $30 million of public resourcing is going to go and what are students going to get at QUT that they might not get at other universities in terms of quality.


NICK GRIMM: But doesn’t this highlight the fact that if you give universities the green light to raise fees, then they’ll find reasons to increase them?


BRENDAN NELSON: In fact we’ve had a number of universities already that have indicated that they won’t be changing their HECS charges at all. At Macquarie University in Sydney, for example, some HECS charges they have announced will be going down. In other words, what will happen across Australia is that there will be different HECS levied in different universities for different courses. And I think it borders on the ridiculous that QUT, or whoever has produced this paper, would suggest that you would increase HECS in every course in that university simply because you might be seen to be not as good as another university.


TONY EASTLEY: Federal Minister, Brendan Nelson, speaking there with our reporter, Nick Grimm.