Abbott Government’s higher education policy in disarray

It’s only a matter of time before widespread anger and concern over the Abbott Government’s shambolic higher education policy forces the Government to abandon its unpopular changes, Shadow Minister for Higher Education Senator Kim Carr said today.

“It’s clear the wheels are falling off this ill-considered and retrograde policy – students and their families are concerned and angry, the university sector is deeply concerned and some on the Government’s own backbench are also concerned and angry,” Senator Carr said.

“This is a repeat of the Kemp fiasco of 2002 – when an identical policy was abandoned after similar protests.

“It’s been abundantly clear from their statements this week, that neither the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, nor the Education Minister, Mr Pyne, is fully across the detail of their policy, and that they have failed to grasp its complexities and repercussions.

“We have the prospect of fees skyrocketing – up to $120,000 and $200,000, as some have predicted – and heavy debt burdens with compound interest looming if these changes go ahead.

“How long before the Abbott Government cans this ridiculous package and wakes up to its mistake in introducing it in the first place?

“This week we have heard university vice-chancellors and others in the sector, including some in favour of deregulation, expressing their concerns, such as:

  • Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney Professor Michael Spence warning that fee deregulation risked pricing middle-class families out of a tertiary education. "It's the ordinary Australians that I think aren't getting enough of a guernsey in this conversation," he said.
  • Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide Professor Warren Bebbington saying aspects of the changes were “unworkable” and “unduly harsh”. “The compounding interest here [means] we might deliver debts to students of $70,000, $80,000, $100,000 and no-one here wanted that," he said.
  • Universities Australia chair Professor Sandra Harding warning that the changes were being rushed.  “There are grave risks here. Universities are being asked to set fees in an unprecedented market environment," she said.
  • University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Hoj revealing that the budget would cost his university at least $60 million.
  • HECS architect Dr Bruce Chapman warning the changes could lead to profiteering.  “If universities have price discretion they will all take it ... and could actually end up charging more than what it actually costs,” he said. 

“Vice-chancellors from institutions such as the University of Western Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra, Charles Sturt, Deakin, Federation University, University of South Australia and Southern Cross have all raised differing concerns with aspects of this package.

“On top of all this, Mr Abbott is facing a backbench revolt over the ‘stinking carcass’ of a Budget, as a senior Liberal has described it, with several speaking out publicly about their dismay, including:

  • Liberal Senator Cori Bernardi: “There are plenty of regular people who are disappointed with aspects of the budget and their concerns are entirely legitimate.”
  • Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald: “I can’t believe how bad the strategy was.”

“You have to wonder how long it will be before the Government realises what an albatross it has created for itself and comes to its senses by abandoning an unworkable, unfair and unpopular policy.”

FRIDAY, 23 MAY 2014

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