The Australian | 25 September 2013
Pyne told The Australian’s Higher Education Supplement that international education issues would be tackled “sooner rather than later”, given the economic impact of a 20% to 25% decline in Australia’s biggest non-mining export industry.
I want to review the way the previous government dealt with post-study work rights and streamlining of visas. They used a sledgehammer to break a walnut when they first came to power, and did a great deal of damage to our international education reputation by shutting down the capacity of international students to remain here post-study. Bad decisions were made around streamlining and post-study work rights, not because of a lack of recognition that they needed to be fixed but because they didn’t want to interfere with their political arguments around 457 visas. I want to try and repair that.
Pyne said reducing universities’ regulatory load would be the other high priority, guided by the recommendations of the recent review of university regulation.
Labor’s introduction of a national regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, had been “a good initiative, but it’s gone from being a risk-based assessment of higher education institutions into a one-size-fits-all approach”.
This is stifling creativity in the higher education system. There’s much we can do to reduce the burden of regulation, red tape and reporting by addressing some of the issues around TEQSA.
Any changes to the demand-driven higher education system would take longer, he said.
Some people in the higher education sector believe we’re already at saturation point with the number of people that can and want to go to university. I need to get good advice about all of that.
Pyne said he would not be bound by the former government’s higher education policies, including its targets for attainment and inclusion. But increases to HECS fees are “not even being considered”, and he backed away from previous Coalition plans to reintroduce full-fee courses for domestic undergraduates.
He said quality would be the prime consideration in the review of the demand-driven system.
You should never take your eye off quality in the higher education sector. After the US and the UK, we’re the third highest ranked country in terms of numbers of universities in the top echelons around the world, and that’s only because we have a reputation that needs to be protected. That reputation is built around quality. Buildings are important, locations are important, but quality is the key driver of reputation.