The Australian | 25 September 2013
The target of 40% of 25 to 34-year-olds to have a university degree by 2025 may be abandoned, with new education minister Christopher Pyne declaring he is “obsessed” with quality rather than targets.
The targets also require 20% of university students to be from the most disadvantaged quarter of the population by 2020.
Pyne also said he would revisit the demand-driven higher education system established by the former Labor government.
My aspiration is to get as many people doing university education as want to do it and can do it effectively to maintain quality. I’m not going to get caught up with Labor’s targets and goals or five-year great leap forwards.
Government quotas on domestic undergraduate places were relaxed in 2010 and 2011, and removed last year, prompting a 21% surge in new student numbers.
However, concerns were raised at the ability of the new entrants, with many places going to students with university entrance scores below 50.
Recently, interest in university has waned, with just 0.6% more places offered this year, compared with a 5% jump last year.
Pyne said he would examine whether the system had reached “saturation point”, compromising quality in the process.
Pyne rejected speculation that the new government intends to raise university fees, saying changes to the HECS system were “not even being considered”.
He signalled possible changes in other areas, saying he was “not bound at all by the previous government’s policies” on higher education.
Pyne indicated that the Coalition would go further than Labor in reducing red tape for universities, and refused to rule in or out the winding back of recent funding cuts to the sector.
He might also consider extending beyond universities the right to work after graduating as well as more generous visa processing arrangements for international students.
The government has also decided to hand responsibility for research to Pyne, overturning last week’s decision to place it in the portfolio of Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.
The decision, revealed in an administrative arrangements order last Wednesday, prompted concerns that research would be neglected.