ABC Canberra, Breakfast with Philip Clark


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government cuts to higher education; Labor funding for universities; student subsidies to research; cuts to Canberra universities.

PHILIP CLARK: Senator, good morning.


CLARK: Good to see you here. You’ll be meeting with Stephen Parker, he’s been very openly critical of the Government’s proposals; do universities need another source of funding?

CARR: Well, it’s clear that the Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Parker, has been very courageous in his position, he’s very direct and forthright. He’s shown a great deal of strength in arguing the position, which he has demonstrated, I think in logic, to be correct. There is no doubt in my mind that the government has responsibilities to fund universities properly. And those that argue that they can go to a deregulated model are letting the Government off the hook and, I say, all governments off the hook.

But the fact remains that the education system is incredibly important for the future of the country and important to individuals as well. Ever since Whitlam we’ve understood that the higher education system, whether it be through TAFE or be it through the universities, is the key that unlocks the doors of inequality.

CLARK: Look, I think we all agree with that, that we value higher education, we know we’ve got a good sector here in Australia, and a valuable one; it’s become a big export industry as well – the question is, who’s going to fund it though? And your side of politics as well, have been on the side of those who have been cutting funding to universities over the years, now –

CARR: That’s not true, let’s get that straight – that’s not true, that’s a claim that’s made.

CLARK: Federal government spending on universities has declined –

CARR: That’s not right, that’s simply not right – under the Labor Government, funding for universities went up by the better part of 100 per cent, from the time we were elected through to the end of this forward estimates, in real terms; per student, the increase was 10 per cent, in real terms. Now these claims made, it’s not true.

CLARK: Do you see the Federal Government as having a greater role, because at the moment I think universities are claiming that their share of Federal funding is at a point where it is not sustainable anymore?

CARR: Well, there’s an element there that makes a lot of sense. The Government’s cut the program support by 20 per cent. Now that means that they’ve then said to the universities, ‘you put up your fees to make up the difference’. Now what NATSEM – and we’ll be at NATSEM today – has highlighted, is for a science degree that would mean fees would have to be charged, which may well be double, maybe in some places triple, the cost of the degree.

Now, it’s simply not fair, and I believe it to be morally wrong, to shift the balance to that extent, and so what I say is that the public good that education brings to this nation, requires the Commonwealth to properly fund our university system, properly fund our research system.

CLARK: So the Government should step back in and be the major funder of it then?

CARR: Yes, that’s right, that’s right. And the current arrangements, 60 per cent of the money for education, comes from the public purse – 60 per cent. Now I think that proportion’s about right. Now the question remains whether or not, this Government’s going to be let off the hook, given that they said in the last election, that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health and of course no cuts to pensions.

And now we have Mr Hockey, who lives in this fantasy world, this North Shore, bankers’ view of the world, where he gets his rich mates to try to get the Senate to agree to these changes; no idea of what it’s like for ordinary folks to be able to sustain their living standards, that I think they’ve got a right to. And that’s what this argument’s about.

CLARK: What do you make of the argument that Ian Turner [Young] makes, that there ought to be a culture of excellence he says, in Australia, and that we’ve got some universities here that can step into that role, those universities ought to be allowed to set their own fees, cut their students so that they’re more like the prestige, research universities in the United States, and that if they don’t do this then Australia will simply fall behind.

CARR: Look, I say simply this, all universities must aspire to excellence, it’s not something –

CLARK: But they can’t all –

CARR: Yes, they can, yes, they can.

CLARK: No, but he’s got a point here, hasn’t he? That there are always going to be tiers of universities, and the very top universities who perform research will be at the top of that tier.

CARR: Well that’s how we measure our international standing. What this government’s proposing to do is to slug students to subsidise the research program, instead of funding the research program properly. That’s what this is all about – this is a device to subsidise research. But I take the view that is appropriate that every Australian who’s got the ability ought to go to a university which has as its prime objective, one of excellence. There is no inconsistency between social justice and excellence. None whatsoever.

If we’re talking about the research program, then clearly every university is capable of doing research at world levels. That’s why I, as Minister, introduced ERA, which is the measurement of these things, to make sure that we were aspiring to excellence and that we were funding programs on the basis of who could do work at the internationally recognised level. But it is totally wrong to suggest that we should jettison social justice in the pursuit of excellence.

CLARK: So what level of Federal funding would Labor restore to universities then? Because you have cut it –

CARR: Let’s look at a few things here – we did reduce some of the programs in the last budget, for a limited period, to fund the schools program.

CLARK: You cut it by about $3 billion.

CARR: Well, you can argue the toss about the precise number, but the Government walked away from the commitments and we have said –

CLARK: Well, in April 2013 you announced a cut of $2.8 billion to universities, so it means you have cut it, but what I’m saying is what will you restore it to?

CARR: Well, what I’m saying is we’ve maintained the funding arrangements that we had in government. We are in the business of ensuring that the amount money that’s available does the job, does the job properly. That is what we’ve committed to, we’ve said that the Government’s proposals to reduce the funding by 20 per cent is not something that we will vote for. And we will be calling on the Senate to reject these proposals.

 We’re going around the country and today I’m at the University of Canberra, at a roundtable, to talk about the consequences for the University of Canberra, which will, under these proposals, be losing the better part of $60 million out of the government cuts to funding, just at that one university. Now the universities of ANU and Canberra together, the better part of $120 million will be taken from those universities and we will not be supporting that.

CLARK: What about the issue of HECS? Will you restore HECS to what it was and also keep the concessional interest rate treatment of HECS?

CARR: Well, we support the architecture of HECS as it was when we were in government. We think that there was an appropriate balance there to ensure that there is a private contribution, but there is also a subsidy to ensure that people from poorer backgrounds get access to university and the opportunity of a fair go in this country. This is a government that wants to bolt the door on social justice and to bolt the door for future generations, which is something we simply can’t accept.

CLARK: Senator Carr, good to talk.

CARR: Thank you.

CLARK: Senator Kim Carr.


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