Today Senator Birmingham has been given a second chance – a chance to end the assault on Australian universities and their students.
Having spent the entire campaign missing in action, he should go back to the drawing board and dump the plan for a 20 per cent funding cut to university teaching and $100,000 degrees.
Universities and students have a right to know if the Minister has learned the lessons of the past two years and whether he will push the pause button on damaging changes to higher education policy.
The Liberals’ latest attempt at higher education policy is a discussion paper released on Budget night, which still promotes deregulation, with $100,000 degrees and a lifetime of debt a real prospect for Australian students.
The Budget still incorporates the 20 per cent cut to university teaching. In fact, higher education expert Mark Warburton estimates that the cut to university budgets could be a ruinous $3.75 billion.
The Liberals’ assault on universities and students from the 2014 Budget has already been rejected twice by Parliament, despite the Government trying every trick in the book. The Senate and the Australian public are not as ignorant as the Liberals think.
Yet Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to press ahead with all his Budget measures, despite having an even less predictable Senate after the election. On the issue of university funding, he is on the record saying:
“I think it is fair for students to make a greater contribution.”
Malcolm Turnbull, Sunrise, Channel Seven, 4 May 2016
To proceed in this way would be bloody-minded and counterproductive.
Even though the public and the Senate have comprehensively rejected the unfair and unnecessary $100,000 degrees and savage cuts to university teaching, the Liberals have clung to those measures. It is time to bury them.
Our nation’s future prosperity and social cohesion requires public investment in quality higher education that is available to all who merit a place – as our major competitor nations already realise.
Malcolm Turnbull likes to talk about innovation, jobs and economic security, yet the measures he has supported so far undermine those objectives.
Students and their families, businesses and communities all benefit from a strong higher education sector.
Labor stands ready to work with Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Birmingham to find a better way to fund universities sustainably over the long term.