Evidence presented to the Senate inquiry of the planned higher education changes has repudiated Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s claim that the changes would benefit regional universities:
“I can say that regional universities will be the biggest winners from this reform.”
[CHRISTOPHER PYNE, AM, ABC RN, 28 AUGUST 2014]
Professor Peter Lee, chair of the Regional Universities Network (RUN), told the inquiry’s Brisbane hearing that the combined effect of a 20 per cent funding cut and uncapped fees would cause serious financial hardship for students at RUN campuses:
“I think for mature students who are working part-time often – an enrolled nurse trying to become a registered nurse, a bookkeeper wanting to become an accountant, a teacher aide trying to become a full teacher, not well remunerated – these are the characteristics of our students at regional universities. … I think it does have a disproportionate impact on the students we enrol.”
Professor Lee noted that these students were trying to balance all the components of a family budget, including the cost of their education. Hence, they would be particularly hit hard by having to repay their HELP loans at real interest rates.
Professor Lee’s evidence supported criticisms of the higher education proposals in submissions to the inquiry by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Australian Education Union. Both organisations will give evidence to the inquiry’s next hearing in Canberra tomorrow.
The Brisbane hearing also heard that the cuts to university funding were an attack on an industry crucial to Australia’s export earnings. The Acting Chair of the Australian Technology Network of Universities, Professor Deborah Terry, said that the 20 per cent cut to base funding:
“… grows to almost 30 per cent when you include cuts to research students, national research facilities and capital infrastructure. This is an unprecedented attack on any industry, let alone one of Australia’s biggest export industries and one that is vital for the strength and economic productivity of the nation.”
The submissions and evidence to the inquiry are building a picture of the two-tier university system that would emerge under the Pyne plan, with a very few wealthy institutions at the top and a large number struggling to compete and to maintain standards.
TUESDAY, 7 OCTOBER 2014