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D-Day looms in the Senate on uni fees

27 October 2014

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The Senate committee report on the government’s higher education reform package is due by 28 October, with debate set for later in the week.  Education minister  Christopher Pyne has made clear that fee deregulation is the key reform he and Tony Abbott want to achieve, even if it means $5 billion in planned savings fall short.

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$100 notes

It’s being reported that, in addition to dropping the proposal to charge a “real interest rate”, the government is seeking to cut a deal around delaying the extension of public funding to “for profit” higher education providers by three years and perhaps also delaying the extension to universities of uncapped funding of sub-degree places. This would save around $800 million over four years and give room to moderate the proposed 20% cut in university funding and fund a modest “transitional fund” for universities in” thin markets”. However, Pyne has denied he is dumping key parts of his higher education reforms, suggesting there must be a “lone wolf” in the sector. He told Channel Nine’s Today Show the article was “completely false” and “news” to him.

“It looks like a grab bag of wish lists from certain people, but that is not the government’s position,” he said.
When pressed by host Karl Stefanovic, Pyne said “maybe there’s a lone wolf operating in the higher education space that I’m not aware of”:

I have said all along we will negotiate and we will negotiate, but this grab bag of shopping list of certain changes is all news to me.”

The Labor opposition and the Greens remain implacably opposed to the centrepiece of the package and, apparently. also the Palmer United Party (PUP) senators: the outspoken Jacqui Lambie says she rejected overtures from the Abbott government to strike a special deal for her home state of Tasmania in exchange for allowing universities to set their own fees.

I said ‘I’m not prepared to do that and sell other students out.’…We don’t want to do special deals for our own states.

She said Pyne should “hang his head in shame” for proposing to deregulate university fees.

Christopher Pyne should buy a box of Kleenex because he’s not getting our vote. We decided a long time ago that we support free education.

Clive Palmer talked down speculation of a split within the PUP, saying he expects the party to vote together against fee deregulation.

There’s not a lot of wriggle room in these statements and. on that arithmetic, the reform package will fail to pass the Senate.
But all will be revealed by week’s end.
Meanwhile advocates of the package, led by the Group of 8 universities, are lobbying hard, privately and publicly.

Sydney University is says nearly a third of its students will get scholarships if the planned shake-up of higher education passes the Senate.

Vice-chancellor Michael Spence says the higher fees would allow the university to spend an extra $80 million dollars on scholarships.

The announcement that we’ve made today is about the fact that we know that we will be able, under any system that we have, to have a generous package of support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, that they’ll actually have more support than they have at the moment and that’s based on modelling where the fees are, for a degree sort of the price of a family car, something in the range that the University of Western Australia has already announced.

Spence was somewhat less forthcoming on how much the university itself would benefit from fee deregulation

JAMES GLENDAY: So there’ll be about $80 million extra for students if this legislation passes; how much extra money will there be for the universities?

MICHAEL SPENCE: Well that’s not a part of the announcement that we’ve made today but it’s not for the university it’s-

JAMES GLENDAY: Well I’m just trying to get an idea of sort of the percentage we’re talking, it’s $80 million for students, is it a billion for the uni?

MICHAEL SPENCE: Yeah, look I mean we are in the middle of doing all that kind of modelling, doing the detailed maths.

Really?? The university has worked out how much it will have available for scholarships but hasn’t worked out the revenue impact of higher fees?  Spence should have just been upfront, given the ballpark figure and emphasised the additional revenue will be reinvested in the operations of the university (that is, for teaching and research).

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