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Opposition to uni reform package hardens

The Guardian    |     11 August 2014

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The Labor Party has confirmed its opposition to the ­Abbott government’s proposed  university funding cuts and fee deregulation,  launching a campaign with the National Union of Students (NUS)  to ramp up protests against the plan.

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Universities will have to raise fees by an average of about 30% to make up for planned funding cuts. All students enrolling since the May budget will be subject to the bill shorten2deregulated fees. Some universities have assured those students who enrolled mid-year, after the budget, that they will be exempt from deregulated fees come 2016, but the sector can’t ­afford to make the same assurances for students starting next year

Opposition leader Bill Shorten visited the University of Melbourne on 11 August to step up Labor’s campaign against the higher education changes.  Shorten said universities must be “accessible to all” and called for rallies on campuses across the country “to send a very clear message to the Abbott government and to the Senate: hands off our education system”.

He said the decision to cut funding, deregulate fees and increase interest rates on student loans represented “a trifecta of shame which will destroy the dreams of ordinary Australians to send their kids to university”.

The NUS is planning a national day of protest on ­20 August.

The sector is lobbying for the government to give exemptions to the 2015 student cohort and give them more time to determine their fees.

Education minister Christopher Pyne has signalled he is ­prepared to compromise on the package, apparently around interest rates on student loans.  Nevertheless, his reform package appears unlikely, at this stage, to make it through the  Senate,  given strong ­opposition to fee deregulation and funding cuts from Labor,  the Greens and, on the face of it, the Palmer United Party (it is, admittedly, difficult to predict where PUP will end up).  You would also think that other regionally-based crossbenchers,  such as the DLP’s John Madigan and Ricky Muir (Motor Enthusiasts Party), might have trouble supporting the package, given its expected disproportionately adverse effect on regional universities.  The impact on regional universities might also concern some National Party senators.

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