AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR PRIVATE EDUCATION AND TRAINING, SYDNEY
THURSDAY, 22 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government higher education shambles; concern from vice-chancellors; deregulation; cuts to higher education and to tertiary sector regulator.
JOURNALIST: Kim Carr, there seems to be a growing division and uncertainty around when the [inaudible] changes will actually kick in; we seem to have Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott saying one thing, the Budget Papers something else; HECS debt changes seem to apply from now, so do fees for enrolling students now. Is this a shambles as you’ve suggested?
KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: There’s no doubt, this is a shambles; it’s not a strategy. It’s only a matter of time before the Government has to abandon what has been a very hastily devised program of cuts. That’s what it is – it’s a program of cuts that actually will weaken Australia’s higher education system; it’s an attempt perhaps to copy something out of the United States, to look at what’s happening in the United Kingdom, but in reality it’s a return to the Menzies’ idea that you don’t get to university on academic merit, and if you haven’t got enough money, it’s pot luck whether or not you actually get there.
JOURNALIST: Universities say they want to be able to give certainty to students, but they can’t for students enrolling now because they can’t figure out what the fees are going to be in 2016. Does the Government need to provide that certainty?
CARR: Well, the Government needs to abandon these policies. We will be voting against these policies because they are fundamentally unfair. It’s a betrayal of universities, it’s a betrayal of students in this country. The Government said exactly the opposite to what they’re doing before the election. The Government must abandon these packages and it’s only a matter of time before these policies are dumped by this Government.
JOURNALIST: Some vice-chancellors who were initially supportive of some of the changes now seem to be wavering quite considerably and we’ve got the University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor saying that there’s such little detail in the Budget Papers he’s concerned about the impact on lower- and middle-income earners. Are vice-chancellors now potentially waking up to the impact?
CARR: Well, the university vice-chancellors have got a right to be concerned. There’s no doubt that the Government’s been sold a pup. The Government doesn’t understand the implications of its own policy; it’s quite clear the Minister doesn’t understand the implications of his own policy; the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to have a clue. And it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the university system wakes up to just how damaging these policies are – damaging to students, damaging to Australia. The Government not only has betrayed students but it has also put in packages that make it very, very difficult for students from rural and regional backgrounds to get a decent education. It’s simply not fair.
JOURNALIST: So for students enrolling now, they will face higher charges in 2016?
CARR: There’s no doubt -
JOURNALIST: For those with a HECS debt now, they will face higher charges?
CARR: That’s right. There is no doubt what the Budget Papers actually say. There is no doubt that these programs actually apply to people that currently have a debt; it’s not something in the future, it happens now. If you’re enrolling now, you will be facing these charges if this Government policy is put in place. We won’t be voting for it, but who knows what will happen in the Senate? The best thing that could happen for Australia is for the Government to abandon these plans.
JOURNALIST: Is that unlikely though?
CARR: Well, we know how silly this Government can be. We’ll wait and see what they actually do, but it’s my expectation it’s only a matter of time before the Government bails out of these stupid policies.
JOURNALIST: Senator, can I ask, you seem to suggest that some of these measures are going to allow a greater increase in, as you put it, criminals and crooks and an increase in degree mills – have I got that right?
CARR: What I said was, that in the past that’s what happened. The last time the Government under Dr Kemp as Minister – now Dr Kemp is writing their position papers – last time we saw that. We saw the operations of crooks, charlatans and criminals operating in Australian education. We saw people setting up colleges as degree mills – we don’t want to return to that. We don’t want to see measures of regulation put in place that allow this sort of thing to happen. The Government has cut the regulator’s budget in half, it is sacking the commissioners for the regulator.
The Government doesn’t seem to understand the implications of its own policies and I’ve got absolutely no doubt that our universities will face, under this policy, not just increased pressure from low-rent providers but also from the very most prestigious institutions around the world. We may in fact see that many of the existing providers won’t be able to actually get the bonanza that they think they’re going to get out of this scheme.
Now this is in the context where the Government is reducing funding – a 20 per cent reduction for every student, 20 per cent. The consequence of that is that, just to keep pace, what the universities are saying is that they have got to increase fees by about 30 per cent, just to keep pace. Not to mention the price gouging that the proponents of this measure have now indicated they believe will become part of this scheme.
JOURNALIST: We saw some very, I would say, violent protests in both Sydney and Melbourne yesterday. It may well be the case that we get some when Mr Pyne arrives here in Sydney. Do you advocate direct action among students?
CARR: Oh, look, there’s no place for violence in Australian politics. This is a Government that keeps talking about freedom of speech – you know, the right to be a bigot, all that sort of thing. People are entitled to put a view, people have got a right to be angry. There’s no place for violence.
I expect that students will feel betrayed. They will feel absolutely betrayed by this Government. They know what they are facing – and that is crippling debts. Why wouldn’t you be angry? Why wouldn’t their parents be angry at the loss of opportunity, the loss of the great egalitarian traditions that this country is founded upon? Of course the Minister is likely to find that he faces a hostile rction from the Australian people, but there’s no excuse for violence.
JOURNALIST: Are there any aspects of the package that you support in principle?
CARR: Well, tell me what they might be? What is there about this package that the Labor Party could agree with? What we’re seeing here is a reduction in the rates of indexation, for instance. So even the so-called increases the Government talks about are, in fact, cuts. We’re seeing a Government program which is slashing the science budget, slashing the research budget, slashing our opportunities, our capabilities, to be able to perform amongst the best internationally when it comes to building a scientific future for this country. Why should we support any of that?
Why should we in any way embrace a Government that is so hostile to science, so hostile to intellectual pursuit that it actually wants to see this country return to an old system whereby the privileged did well, the wealthy were able to do very well, but for the poor it was a question of pot luck and whether or not you got a scholarship? That’s not the sort of country that we want. We want people to be able to succeed on the basis of their academic ability, not on the size of their dad’s bank account.
JOURNALIST: The broad principle of extending CSPs to private providers, putting aside the funding of this package, is that something Labor would support?
CARR: Well, you’ve got to ensure that it is actually the right amount of money. I mean this Government is cutting the money, this is a Budget saving, a $1.1 billion saving under the guise of expanding the number of providers. What you’re finding is more providers competing for less money. The consequence of that is less quality in the Australian education system.
They’re actually reducing opportunities for Australians to do well. They’re reducing opportunities to earn a decent living in the future, and they’re reducing this country’s ability to deal with the big challenges of the 21st century. So, there’s no way we can back the Government’s approach on that matter. As to the bills – let’s have a look at them. We’ve already indicated there will be a number of measures we’ll be voting against – but this Government doesn’t even know itself what it’s doing, so it’s a bit hard to ask us to pass judgment on a bill we haven’t actually seen.
JOURNALIST: But the principle of extending CSPs to private providers?
CARR: Well, the principle needs to be looked at in the context of what’s involved – what is the regulation involved, what’s the quality assurance involved? We need to look at the amount of money involved, what the price is. There are many factors that need to be considered in this matter. Already we have a very substantial number of private providers receive government support in various forms – the question is there’s no excuse for running up the white flag when it comes to the Government’s responsibilities to actually fund education, science and research properly, and we certainly won’t be running up the white flag, even if some others want to.
JOURNALIST: Just on the increased HECS with the interest rates and so forth for people who already have loans, do you think that sort of proposition is something that could survive a legal challenge?
CARR: No, it won’t. Look, this is – the Government has bought a pup. These are the sort of propositions that every education minister has had put to them since David Kemp’s leaked Cabinet submission. The people that wrote that submission have now of course now been pushing it forward in a different way. Every minister has had this proposition put to them, but only Christopher Pyne has been gullible enough to accept it, and now we have the consequence, where a minister who doesn’t understand the implications is facing untold damage being committed to our higher education system and it’s meeting widespread, in fact, universal, opposition to it across the university system. Even those that said they were initially in favour are now having second thoughts.