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Uni reforms “do or die” in the Senate

The Australian    |    1 August 2014

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The Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton says the government will need to negotiate its proposed higher education reforms through the Senate,  as most will require legislation to implement.

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 Education Budget2He said the government’s 20% funding cut will have to go through the Senate, while changes to HELP loans also require legislative amendments.

Norton said the government’s plan to open the market for bachelor degree subsidies to non-university providers will need legislative amendments to establish a definition for those institutions eligible for the subsidy.

These  will likely be linked to registration with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.  Currently the legislation doesn’t define eligible institutions, it just lists them.

Norton  suggested the government will likely want to link this change closely to legislation to uncap the supply of sub-bachelor degrees, to which the Senate is likely to be sympathetic. But if the Senate passed the uncapping but stopped widening eligibility then the non-universities the government want to encourage into that market would be kept out.

Norton said the government’s plan to fund non-universities at a lower rate than universities in terms of per student funding may could be problematic.   It could require the government to acknowledge explicitly that a proportion of  such funding is used for research since the basis for a higher rate for universities is that they undertake research.

But this may fall foul of related constitutional arrangements that require the funding to be for “benefit to students.” Using some money for research could therefore invite a constitutional challenge since research may not be seen to be benefiting students.

 

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