Interview, ABC News 24


SUBJECT/S: Student debt death tax, University funding, equity, Research only universities

LYNDAL CURTIS: Kim Carr, welcome to ABC News 24. The PM has ruled out collecting HECS debts from a deceased estate. Is that the end of the matter?

KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: Another day, another fiasco in education in Australia. This is what’s happening isn’t it? One day after the other, one Minister contradicts another Minister. They don't seem to understand the implications of the policy positions they have been articulating.

CURTIS: On the HECS debt, it does seem they are looking at ways to collect debts say from students who go overseas. If a student owes money, even if they go overseas, shouldn't that money still be repaid?

CARR: Yes, but there is some real administrative difficulties with a lot of these proposals. Nothing here is particularly new. We have seen various people try to run this around the clock over the last 20 years or so. But you need to look at the practical implications of these measures. This is a Government that wants to undermine the fundamental principles of HECS: that is the Government pays the bulk of education expenses because of the public good that's involved and that the individual pays a minority because there is some private benefit. So it's a good arrangement but it can't be upset by getting the balance wrong. This Government's priorities are all wrong.

CURTIS:It is an arrangement isn’t it that grows in expense for the Government over time, particularly if you are dealing with a system that doesn’t have a cap on places?

CARR: Well, what we have, of course, is a growing benefit to the country of having more people that are highly skilled and people that are able to initiate new opportunities with industry. We need good scientists, we need good engineers, we need people that are able to navigate the great challenges of the 21st century. You don't do that by keeping people ignorant. You don't do that by locking out people from low and middle incomes from getting a decent education.

CURTIS:Are you going to vote against the whole package of changes to higher education when it comes to a vote in the Senate?

CARR: We are voting against fee rises, we are voting against increasing costs to students or the reductions in student support. We are voting against measures that make the system less fair. This is an incredibly important issue for the future of nation. This is a Government that doesn't know what it's doing, has ambushed the Australian people, has deceived the Australian people, did not discuss these things before the election, in fact said exactly the opposite to what they are doing now. Why should we vote for it?

CURTIS: Universities are looking at the question of removing the caps on fees. Do you believe that advantages one part of the sector over another and are there some dangers in it?

CARR: It's quite clearly going to advantage those that are in the strongest market position.  The more prestigious universities will get a major advantage out of such a scheme. That is why they have argued this position for a very long time. It means great disadvantage to rural and regional students.

CURTIS:Isn’t the Government telling universities to put some of those extra fees towards more scholarships?

CARR: That’s only for those big outfits. In fact the scholarships will be administered by the universities and not by the Government so we won’t know who will get them. It will return us to the Menzies era where you won't get an education based your ability, it will be on whether or not you have a good income or your family has a good income. It will prevent Australia being an more educated nation because it will be a major disincentive for people from lower and middle incomes. That's what the University of Sydney Vice Chancellor said; these are measures that may price the middle class out of higher education in Australia.

CURTIS:Are there any dangers for the sandstone universities?

CARR: They may find the competition will be harder then they hoped. They should be careful for what they wished for here. Why wouldn't a Harvard, why wouldn't the University of Singapore or Yale set up a proposition here if they are getting a Government subsidy to do it? This is a country attractive for international students and with a university with a great reputation like Yale or Harvard or Singapore, why wouldn’t they set up here?

CURTIS:Christopher Pyne has raised again an option he has raised before about having some universities that are teacher only universities that don't do research as well. Does that make sense for universities to play to their strengths if they are good at teaching but don't have the advantages and research to concentrate on the teaching only?

CARR: The research program is incredibly important for the future of this nation and the future of our economy, the ability of industry to modernise. And of course that's important in rural and regional areas to have universities that are able to conduct high quality, world class research. This is a Government that has taken $1.4 billion out of the research, science budgets if you include the cuts to the R&D tax credits, you get up to $1.4 billion. How can you say you are interested in research when you are doing this and how can you say that when you are gouging students, which is what this Government proposes to do to subsidise research.

CURTIS:I will come back to the question of money. All these things have to be paid for. The Government has a finite amount of money. Is it time to look at some of the things that Labor in office didn't look at like superannuation tax concessions or something like negative gearing?

CARR: We have indicated there was a range of measures, revenue raising measures that the Government has turned its back on. Transfer pricing for instance for major international firms, we have looked at a whole range of matters in the past. We increased expenditure for education by nearly 100%. We wanted to see more Australians get an education at a cost they could afford. 190,000 extra people are in our university system. We have got to be able to keep pace with the world. You only do that by making sure the education system is available for everybody at the highest quality and at a price they can afford.

CURTIS: Senator Carr, thank you for your time.


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