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Vice-chancellors and students are unclear about ALP policy on student services.

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Tues day 22 May 2007

Vice-chancellors and students are unclear about ALP policy on student services


MARK COLVIN: University students are beginning to get a sense of what's happened to campus es since the Federal Government brought in voluntary student unionism.  


But it's not clear what student life would be like under a Labor Government. 


The Opposition has reversed its policy and says it won't bring back compulsory fees. 


But vice-chancellors and students are demanding to know what their alternative policy is. 


Youth Affairs Reporter Michael Turtle: 


MICHAEL TURTLE: At the height of the debate over voluntary student unionism two years ago, the Labor Party was predicting the sky would fall in without compulsory fees. 


Even when the then education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, was proposing compromise amendments to the Government's legislation she was clear on one thing. 


JENNY MACKLIN: We do want to make sure that those services continue, and the only way they will is if universities are allowed to charge a fee that all students pay. 


MICHAEL TURTLE: How things change ... 


What Labor's education spokesman, Stephen Smith, now says is that students shouldn't have to bear the burden of paying for services on campus. 


STEPHEN SMITH: I believe that these services should be provided either by the universities, or by the Commonwealth, or both. And that's what I am in discussion with the universities about, whether it's appropriate for the Commonwealth to make a contribution, whether it's appropriate for the universities to finance these services. 


MICHAEL TURTLE: The Opposition says its change in policy doesn't bring it into line with the Government because the Coalition has an ideological problem with student organisations. 


Mr Smith says that Labor wants to give people the ability to join whatever group they want. 


STEPHEN SMITH: The key thing here is, do we want to allow students to group together and voluntarily form representative organisations, if that's what they want to, on university campuses? Yes, we do. And we will facilitate that by legislation. And in a sense, more importantly, do we want the amenities and services to be there? Yes, we do.  


MICHAEL TURTLE: The National Union of Students, like Labor, accepts that times have changed since the days of compulsory student fees. 


The NUS President, Michael Nguyen, says many students are facing financial hardship, and they'll actually be pleased not to have to pay an annual fee. 


But he does think that there needs to be more money coming from somewhere. 


MICHAEL NGUYEN: What students would want from either the Government or the Opposition is a commitment to a system that will fund securely student representative bodies moving forward into the future but that at the same time doesn't impose an upfront cost on students, an unfair burden on students, which will be an upfront cost. 


MICHAEL TURTLE: The question now is where does that money come from. 


Ultimately it will be from the taxpayers, but will it be through universities or direct from government? 


Gerard Sutton from Wollongong University is the chair of the new body representing vice-chancellors, Universities Australia. 


GERARD SUTTON: The operating costs associated with food facilities and so on, sporting clubs, can actually be met by user-pays. 


What can't be met, and can't be met a federal government, a state government or a council - and therefore can't be met by a university, is the capital infrastructure associated with that, and that's the weakness in the current arrangement. 


MICHAEL TURTLE: Professor Sutton says more detail is needed about Labor's policy. 


One thing he is clear on though: there needs to be some more funding attached. 


GERARD SUTTON: For a Labor government to come in and just say, and instruct the universities to put this much money into student services would be unacceptable. 


We're funded at the moment, not for that purpose, we're funded at the moment for teaching and research. And we would look to the Government, if Labor were in power, to fund that infrastructure that I've been referring to. 


MARK COLVIN: The Chairman of Universities Australia, Gerard Sutton, ending Michael Turtle's report.