ABC News Radio Interview with Steve Chase, 2 October 2014


SUBJECT: Risk to Australia’s university rankings under Abbott Government higher education changes; Timing of higher education legislation

HOST: The Opposition says the strong showing of our universities in the World University Rankings risks being undermined by the Government. Eight local tertiary institutions have made the top 200 in this year’s Times Higher Education World Rankings. Education Minister Christopher Pyne says the rankings are a clarion call to the Senate to support higher education changes or risk condemning our universities to a slow decline. The Minister’s office declined a News Radio request for an interview. The Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Research, Senator Kim Carr, disagrees with the Government’s response to the rankings.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, KIM CARR: What these rankings highlight is just how good Australian universities are, which is a direct result of the funding support of the Labor government. Liberals are now seeking to diminish the role of Australian universities, and that is exactly the position that the editor of the Times World University Rankings,  Phil Baty, highlighted. He said the Government’s plans to deregulate tuition fees could reshape the landscape in coming years, but the big question is whether the admirable strength in depth could be maintained. And that’s the real question here – the Government’s plans will undermine Australian universities’ place in the world rankings. It will produce a situation where you might have one Rolls Royce but have a dozen clapped-out vehicles.

STEVE CHASE: The minister is saying that flexibility is needed for these universities. Doesn’t he have a point?

CARR: No, what he’s saying is that he wants to justify the Government’s cuts to university funding. The big question is that the Government has to defend university funding. The Government should be fulfilling its responsibility to the Australian people, to the Australian concept of a fair go, so that we have our capacities enhanced by having a high quality education system that gives people the opportunity to have a better life.

CHASE: But the minister is arguing that a lot of the reforms the Government is putting forward are supported by the universities themselves.

CARR: Not one university in the country is unequivocally supporting the Government’s proposals. In the Senate inquiry 130 submissions have been received and throughout there is a clear condemnation by most people who understand how the university system works, as a direct result of the Government’s funding cuts and the Government’s attempt to impose crippling debts on Australian students, and of course, the opportunity for universities to charge whatever they like, which will undermine the very basic principles of equality in Australian higher education.

CHASE: What is the nature of the equivocation that you say is being expressed by some universities.

CARR: There is not one university in the country that is supporting funding cuts. All of the universities are pointing to what they see as the need to seriously amend the Government’s proposals. I say the Government’s proposals are rotten to the core and can’t be fixed. The bill should be withdrawn, and it is my understanding that that’s exactly what the Government is contemplating.

CHASE: Can you elaborate further on that?

CARR: The Government has been talking to a number of vice-chancellors about the prospect of delaying the bill until next year.

CHASE: So this is something the Government will do this week, you suggest?

CARR: I’m expecting that the Government will at some point have to beat a retreat on these measures because they do not enjoy parliamentary support, and it’s only a matter of time before the Government recognise that they’ve got to scrap the bill.

CHASE: Is that in the context of the wider discussion that the Government’s been having with the Senate crossbench about welfare measures?

CARR: It’s in the context of the fact that they don’t have the numbers in the Senate. What the Government has proposed is fundamentally unfair, and a majority of senators understand that core proposition. What the Government is proposing would actually set back Australian universities. It would set back Australia. It would undermine principles that we’ve all come to expect: that if you work hard and you’ve got the brains, you have the opportunity for a quality education in this country. The Government is undermining that very basic principle, which undermines Australian democracy.

CHASE: It’s been pointed out that a lot of universities around the world that get into the top 200 do so because they’ve got a strong research base.

CARR: That’s exactly right.

CHASE: Do you suspect that even though Australia’s done well, it could do even better if the research was funded …

CARR: The Government is cutting research funding. It’s making it more expensive for people to get a PhD. The Government is undermining our research infrastructure. It’s not just charging higher fees to do an undergraduate degree, it wants undergraduates to subsidise research  and at the same time charging research students fees to undertake their research training.

HOST: That was the Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Senator Kim Carr.


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