Commonwealth News | 16 July 2013
In an interview on ABC Radio National, higher education minister Kim Carr was somewhat equivocal on the issue of reimposing university enrolment caps. He acknowledged that, in general terms, the 40% bachelor degree attainment target for 25-34 year olds is being approached, with women having already exceeded it.
In particular he noted “there are sections of the Australian population – parts, large communities within our cities, in particular, where the growth rates would seem to be pretty much exhausted.” But equally he noted that “in regional areas, and in particular areas of disadvantage there is still a lot more work to be done . As to what this portends, all he would say is that he welcomes “a debate about the future of higher education.” We know that women have already attained the target level of entry to university.
The process now is a question of discussion about the ways in which we can improve the educational experience for students.
Carr also made it clear that recent higher education budget cuts of $2.3 billion will remain but that the manner of their imposition is negotiable:
…. we are prepared to look at ways in which we can move money between different aspects of the program, and if there is a better way of doing it we are interested in consulting, to talk to people about that, so long as it meets the overall funding envelope.
FRAN KELLY: Kim Carr, to go to the university sector now, the Gillard Government announced a funding cut of $2.3 billion to universities to help pay for the Gonski school reforms. The savings aren’t locked in yet, because they haven’t been legislated yet. If Labor wins the election, are you still planning to go ahead with these cutbacks to university funding?
KIM CARR: Well we’re in the process of discussing the budgetary arrangements with the universities, and what we have said is that we have to meet the funding envelope that’s been allocated, and I will do all that’s necessary to ensure that that happens.
However we are prepared to look at ways in which we can move money between different aspects of the program, and if there is a better way of doing it we are interested in consulting, to talk to people about that, so long as it meets the overall funding envelope.
KELLY: This would be the largest cut to universities since the nineties. Universities are clearly the main drivers of – or one of the key drivers anyway of – innovation, and productivity in the country. Would you call that a smart cut?
CARR: Well, what we’ve always said is that the universities and our research facilities are a critical part of our innovation system.
What we are doing is ensuring that the level of investment continues at very high levels, that we’ve got record levels of investment in our universities.
What we want to see is that that money is spent effectively, and that we are able to ensure that our universities are able to be more responsive to their communities, and that’s the process of discussion that we are embarking upon right now.
KELLY: The universities are also concerned about the growing number of students they’re catering for, and that comes following the demand-driven system for undergraduate courses introduced for the first time by Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister.
Some universities – not all of them – but some, want to cap the number of undergrads they accept each year. And they could achieve this they say by restricting university places to school leavers who get a higher tertiary admission rank, say above 60, or – we already have it above 70 I think for teaching courses. Do you support that move?
CARR: Well, I welcome a debate about the future of higher education. I think it’s absolutely critical to the future of Australia.
KELLY: Sure but do you support the universities being able to lift the admission entry standard, even if that does mean that some people who want to go to uni can’t get in to uni?
CARR: Well what we’re seeing is that the Government targets of 40% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 able to secure a bachelor level qualification is being reached. We’re very close to that already. There are sections of the Australian population – parts, large communities within our cities, in particular, where the growth rates would seem to be pretty much exhausted.
However in regional areas, and in particular areas of disadvantage there is still a lot more work to be done.
We know that women have already attained the target level of entry to university.
But what we now need to do is look at the ways in which we can also improve the educational experience for students.
So it’s not just a question of having more people at university, it’s a question of how many people secure world-class university degrees.
And I want to ensure that all students are able to secure a degree from an Australian university which is second to none.
So the process now is a question of discussion about the ways in which we can improve the educational experience for students. The ways in which we can improve the opportunities for students to get secure, well-paid jobs. Ways in which we can get our universities to be more responsive to their communities, particularly more responsive to the needs of industry, especially when it comes to the research work that we are doing –
KELLY: OK –
CARR: – which of course has to be world class as well.
KELLY: One of the elements of that is making it affordable. You’re sitting down with Universities Australia today. They’re the driving force behind the ‘Scrap the Cap’ alliance, which is 50 professional bodies lining up against the budget decision to impose a $2000 cap on tax deductions for educational expenses. This cap has been branded by the unis and others as a tax on learning. Is Cabinet reconsidering this measure?
CARR: Well what we’re doing is talking to the universities and other professional associations about ways in which we can improve the administration of these decisions. Now we need to look at –
KELLY: Does that mean revising that decision, that $2000 cap?
CARR: Well I’m prepared to have a look at it. There’s currently a review underway within the Treasury.
Now I’m in the business of seeing whether or not there are better ways of doing business, and I think it’s appropriate that that be the case.
However I have to re-emphasise, that this is something that can’t be done by pulling money out of the air. There has to be an understanding that we are working in some very, very tough financial times, the Government is committed to ensuring that we meet our budgetary targets, and so I have to produce results in terms of my portfolio to assist in ensuring that that happens.
KELLY: Kim Carr thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
CARR: Thank you.