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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1981

Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (17:26): Just a quick insight into higher education perspectives: firstly, let me say that Labor, in its wisdom—not—began the discussion of university education as 'higher education'. This began the community misunderstanding that university education was somehow better than other post-school education. As a graduate myself, with postgraduate diplomas and a masters degree, I know too well how hard the work is that is involved in university education. But it is not the direction that all of our school students at the end of year 12 should take. Some are far more suited to trade and diploma education, with a greater degree of certainty for employment. I ask: what is wrong with encouraging young people into alternative training and qualifications? I, for one, want to congratulate those young people who have decided that university is not the best choice for them.

As to the ludicrous comments coming from the opposition, we have been involved in 3½ years of consultations regarding the so-called higher education sector. At every step, the Greens, Labor and any other person who thinks they can jump on the bandwagon has objected to change. Well—hello?-the current system is not working as well as it could. Higher education has been reviewed so many times because politicians are not able to be responsible and make good decisions.

There have been 29 reviews of higher education since 2011. Since then, we on this side have taken full-fee deregulation off the table, released a policy options paper with the 2016 budget, appointed a panel of experts to consider 1,200 submissions to that paper, held a further year of consultations, put forward a revised package of reforms in the 2017 budget and introduced a bill into the parliament. We were left with few options to preserve the budget position, but I guess those opposite don't understand. 'Just spend more money; that'll fix it,' they say. I have heard it in every single debate, but silence on just where that money is to come from.

But, wait a minute, maybe we should recall a fact or two. When Labor was in government, it announced $6.6 billion of cuts to higher education and research in its last three years in government, including an efficiency dividend. Prime Minister Gillard at the time said:

What we are asking unis to do is against a backdrop where there has been growth in university funding by this government of more than 50 per cent, more than half. We are asking universities to accept a lower growth rate ...

Labor has performed its own education backflip, saying it will oppose the coalition's cynical move to cut $2.3 billion from higher education—the very same cut that they took to the last election.

Taxpayers have been funding significant growth in this sector for some time; a $17 billion per year increase in funding for teaching and learning since 2009, which is 71 per cent, more than twice the rate of growth in the economy. Commonwealth supported places have increased by 30 per cent since the same time period. Universities are kidding themselves if they really think they can't be more efficient, given they have spent at least $1.7 billion on marketing and advertising over the last few years. Commonwealth direct funding for teaching, learning and research grows from $10.7 billion to $11.5 billion. If universities maintained their current enrolment patterns, the HELP loan investment would grow from $6.4 billion to $7.4 billion, an 11 per cent growth.

There will be no student fee increases. There will be no efficiency dividend, no changes to funding arrangements for enabling courses, no expansion of sub-bachelor places at public universities and no loadings for veterinary or dentistry courses. But we will continue with a number of reforms, including funding to establish and maintain up to eight regional study hubs to give more choice to regional and remote Australians, and more work on transparency of higher education admissions, teaching and research. There will be a freeze in funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme at the 2017 levels for the next couple of years. There is no cap on places. Universities can continue to over-enrol if they so choose, but there will be a cap on government subsidy. We're establishing the new threshold for repayment at a one per cent interest rate, which is pretty good. That's going to make a big difference to a number of young people.

We need graduates to begin to use their degrees to work, rather than taking up another degree before even starting to get out into the workforce. What are the differences we are proposing with these reforms? Now the taxpayers will not be subsidising every single enrolment decision made by every university, good, bad or otherwise. We're still investing in our national future and we're still investing in our young people, but we're treating taxpayer dollars with respect and accountability. I conclude by noting that university surpluses are running at $1.6 billion.