One of Australia’s most respected higher education experts has spoken out about the dangers for regional students and low-income families of the Abbott Government’s radical changes to university funding.
Professor Kwong Lee Dow has warned that “whatever finally emerges from the political machinations with the Senate, students will be paying significantly more, and rural and regional students will be disproportionately affected”.
His warning comes as a regional Victorian university, the Federation University, revealed it will lose $42.5 million through the Government’s budget cuts.
Visiting Federation University in Ballarat today, Shadow Higher Education Minister Senator Kim Carr said Professor Lee Dow’s speech contradicted the Government’s repeated assertions that the higher education changes would benefit rural and regional students.
“There is no truth in Christopher Pyne’s constant refrain that regional universities and students will be the big winners from his changes.
“On the contrary, there is widespread and justifiable concern in regional universities that they will be worse off under these regressive changes.
“The Abbott Government’s $42.5 million cut to teaching and research at Federation University is a huge blow to this regional university.
“Regional universities do not want to slug students with massive fee hikes to compensate for these cuts or to become second-class institutions, abandon research, or close campuses in order to survive.
“Professor Lee Dow’s reputation as an expert in the field is unquestionable and the Government would be wise to heed his words.”
Professor Lee Dow is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, where he was Dean of Education for 20 years, and has played a leading role in Commonwealth and Victorian Government education reviews.
In a speech in Ballarat on Friday, Professor Lee Dow questioned the Government’s claim that regional universities could charge less for courses, saying that to position themselves in the market they would move to higher fees to try to match the high-status preferred institutions and courses.
“In poorer communities, including regional and rural communities, families will not be able to meet these higher fees, so the institutions will have less funding and so become less competitive over time,” Professor Lee Dow said.
He said he was “acutely aware” of the cost for rural families of having several children living away from home while studying.
Referring to the Government’s proposed increase in interest rates on student loans, he said the negative effects of compound interest rates on student debts could be “alarming”, particularly for those on low incomes or unemployed for a period and women.
MONDAY, 28 JULY 2014