Pyne’s higher education package will take Australia backwards

Shadow Minister for Higher Education Senator Kim Carr said the public was being misled by claims that reduced funding by “successive governments” meant universities had no option but to accept the Abbott Government’s move to deregulate fees.

“The Abbott Government is peddling mistruths about funding because they desperately want to Americanise our university sector,” said Senator Carr.

“Under Labor, university funding per student rose by more than 10 per cent over six years.”

“Under the Abbott Government, higher education funding will be cut by $5.8 billion and students will be forced to pay considerably more for their degree.”

“This is an ideological agenda that will price students from poor backgrounds out of a university degree and out of the jobs of the future.”

“We are not going to back higher fees, crippling debt and unfair barriers to women, students from low-income backgrounds, and rural and regional Australia.”

“There is a moral issue at stake here – it’s about the future of Australia. Labor believes in the right to fair access to a university degree and we believe the Government should not be let off the hook for the responsibility to provide that, with proper funding.”

“The Abbott Government’s rush to the Americanisation of our universities and $100,000 degrees is not only contrary to what it promised before the election, it is wanton destruction of a fair and accessible higher education system.”

“In the Hawke era, when then education minister John Dawkins initiated big changes in the university system, there was a major process of consultation – a green paper, a white paper, draft legislation and public discussion.”

“By contrast, this Government has sought to sneak its changes through as a budget measure in complete defiance of what they said during the election campaign. Its divide-and-conquer approach should be called for what it is, and Labor will continue to fight these short-sighted changes.”

Reports in The Australian today claiming that university per-student funding experienced a “steady decline” under the previous government are wrong – in fact, under Labor, per-student funding rose to its highest-ever level.

Under Labor, real revenue per student to universities, including government and student contributions, increased by more than 10 per cent between 2007 and 2013.

In 2007, real funding per student place (in 2013 dollars) was $16,277; in 2013 it was $18,000; in 2017, it was projected to exceed $18,100.

Furthermore, revenue paid to universities by the previous government (including loan amounts) rose from $8.1 billion in 2007 to $14.0 billion in 2013;  in 2017 it would have been $17.7 billion (in 2013 dollars) – a 100 per cent increase.

Even with the imposition of an efficiency dividend – which Labor announced to help fund the Gonski school reforms – revenue to universities in 2017 would have been $17.7 billion (in 2013 dollars).

Back in early June, Universities Australia released data that showed students would face massive increases in fees and debt under Christopher Pyne’s unfair package.

At the time, Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, highlighted in a Lateline interview that Australia’s university system was voted fifth best in the world by Universitas 21.

In this context, she said “there is a lot at stake” in the Abbott Government’s changes, “and if we get this wrong it’s going to be very, very difficult to turn back.”


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