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Govt to target research…?

 Fairfax Media    |     24 August 2014

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 The federal government will reportedly consider slashing billions of dollars worth of research funding from universities if Parliament blocks its sweeping higher education changes.

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research1Education minister Christopher Pyne plans to introduce legislation into the House of Representatives on 28 August to deregulate university fees, cut course funding by an average 20% and increase the interest charged on student loans.

The government plans to save $3.2 billion over four years by pegging student debts to the government bond rate and lowering the HECS repayment threshold. The cuts to course funding would save an estimated $1.1 billion over three years.

Labor, the Greens and balance of power senators in the Palmer United Party say they are opposed to all these measures.

Fairfax Media reports the government is determined to achieve substantial savings in the higher education portfolio even if the Senate blocks its university package.

While these changes require legislative approval, cuts to research block grants, training schemes and other measures can be passed in appropriations bills which typically sail through Parliament unopposed.

The government has identified cuts to research funding as a potential bargaining chip as Senate negotiations deepen over coming months.

A senior government source said universities should be wary of “cutting off their nose to spite their face”.

Education minister Christopher Pyne also refused to rule out cuts in research funding for universities if parliament blocks higher education changes.

He said the government is “very committed to high level research in Australia” and it “isn’t our plan” to make cuts to research funding, but refused to rule out alternative ways to make savings in the sector. Pyne told the Ten Network

The worst case scenario is cuts without reform.  And I think the university sector gets that and I want to work with the cross benches to make sure we all understand the high stakes we are playing for.

What I want to see is the reduction in the Commonwealth grants scheme by 20%.   But if that doesn’t happen then universities will be able to use that – the fact that they’ve stopped that cut – they’ll be able to use that money for research

Group of Eight Universities chair Ian Young said the prospect of swingeing cuts to research programs was a “doomsday scenario” for universities.

It would be disastrous. As well as decimating research in this country it would put at risk our international market because world rankings are built on research.  Research grants support our research infrastructure, our IT systems, laboratory technicians, PHD programs. This measure would hit research-intensive universities hard, rather than being spread across the entire sector.

University vice-chancellors have developed a unified policy position to put to crossbench senators over coming weeks including:
• support for fee deregulation;
• a reduction to the 20% funding cut;
• watering down the plan to increase the interest rate on student HECS debts; and
• a compensation package for regional universities.

Pyne has indicated he is willing to negotiate with the Senate until the end of the year and beyond to pass his reform package.

These reforms will dramatically change university for the better, they will provide more opportunities for students, they will give our universities the chance to gain the revenue they need to become … some of the best universities in the world.

 

See
Andrew Norton on How can higher education spending be controlled without Senate approval? 
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