ABC World Today with Alexandra Kirk


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Budget of Broken Promises and Twisted Priorities; Higher education fees.

ELEANOR HALL: Higher education is also in for a big change. From 2016 universities will have complete freedom to set fees, while the Commonwealth will cut its contribution to the cost of a degree by around 20 per cent. Labor's education spokesman, Senator Kim Carr, told Alexandra Kirk the change would mark the end of fair and affordable higher education.

KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: For wealthy families it won't make a big difference, but for most families, it'll make a huge difference. We could be looking at fees in some universities of up to $200,000 for a university degree.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: For what sort of degree?

CARR: Well, it will be the more expensive degrees that cost the university a lot to run and more prestigious degrees will be charging very high fees. Now in regional and rural areas, you'll find that there'll be great pressure on the finances of universities.

So for some students, it'll be a serious disadvantage. Not only that, students will have to pay more and they'll get loans from the government at higher rates and be asked to repay them more quickly. So, what it will mean, that the Government will be providing less money per place, it'll actually be saving money out of this arrangements and it will make going to university more expensive for students and their families.

KIRK: You don't think that competition will kick in, that universities will keep their fees down in order to compete for students?

CARR: Well, that's not the evidence around the world. What you see around the world is when this type of program gets put into place, the elite universities charge fees that go through the roof. The proponent of this, Mr Norton, said that they will be able to gouge fees and that is what I will expect would come about as a result of this.

That's why Labor has always opposed these arrangements. What this Government is trying to do is take us back to pre-Whitlam period. They're trying to suggest that, if you've got the money, you get on and, if you haven't, well, then, we'll have a few sort of sops to you, but in essence there'll be a real disadvantage and a disincentive for people from poorer families.

KIRK: What hike in student fees do you think the market can bear?

CARR: Well, it will have to be seen. In my expectations, for the elite universities, fee rises could be between $100,000 and $200,000.

KIRK: Now, universities say that they need more money and that they'll now be able to boost spending on research. Will that help them compete on a world stage and climb up the rankings and get into the top 20 as the Government wants?

CARR: It's most unlikely. This is the universities running up the white flag on what is the Government's responsibility in terms of the public good to fund universities properly. This is the universities gouging student's fees to subsidise research.

KIRK: Labor won't agree to -

CARR: We have said this in our, Labor's platform makes this very clear. We are opposed to the charging of upfront fees and we are opposed to the measures that this Government has announced because essentially it's back to the future.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Labor's higher education spokesman, Senator Kim Carr, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.



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