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TDA to lobby Senate to pass HE reforms

 Fairfax Media     |      17 August 2014

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Labor and the Greens will be shown as hypocrites if they throw low-income students undertaking higher education at vocational colleges ”into the dustbin” by denying them government support, according to TAFE Directors Australia (TDA).

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Go8 Equity scales

TDA chief Martin Riordan says it would be a ”tragedy” if the Senate blocks the expansion of Commonwealth subsidies to students in sub-bachelor degrees – a budget measure experts say will bring fees down and reduce university drop-out rates.

The Abbott government announced in the May budget that, as part of its sweeping higher education package, it would extend Commonwealth Supported Places to 80,000 students doing diplomas and associate degrees at TAFEs and private colleges. These students, who currently have to pay full fees, would now have their course costs covered partly by the Commonwealth. The measure would cost $820 million over three years.

But the proposal is seemingly at risk  following a rancorous debate about increased university fees and the declared opposition to fee deregulation of Labor, the Greens and most of the cross bench , including the Palmer United Party.  This would probably doom the reform package in the Senate, including the extension of Commonwealth subsidies to non-university higher education programs.

Riordan told Fairfax Media:

There has been a tirade of questions about fairness in the budget but this measure has to be top of the list when it comes to fairness.  It would be hypocritical to throw out a full package and leave TAFE students in the dustbin.

Riordan said concerns about subsidising private colleges – which have been hit by past allegations of profiteering and poor course quality – should be dealt with separately. TAFE leaders will travel to Canberra to lobby key crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party, on the issue.

Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton said price competition between higher education providers would encourage TAFEs to pass on subsidies to students via lower fees.

It is also likely to lead to reduced university drop-out rates because students who enter bachelor degrees via diploma courses and other pathway programs are more likely to continue with their studies, he said.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the government’s plan was progressive and that it was ”astonishing” Labor and student unions had not backed it. ”Labor is blocking a reform that will bring in more revenue to the higher education sector and create more opportunity for students,” he said.

Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said Labor will not support a half-baked measure that is designed to make the government’s $1.9 billion cut to university funding look like a positive measure.”

 

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