However, the proposals also include a number of positive initiatives on access and equity that will be welcomed by the sector.
“These further cuts of $2.8 billion in higher education are a false economy given the crucial role of universities in economic growth and job creation,” said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of peak body Universities Australia.
“The proposal for two cuts of 2.5 per cent to public investment in universities in 2018 and 2019 runs counter to the Government’s innovation and skills agenda which aims to keep highly-skilled jobs in Australia in a competitive global economy.”
“Tonight’s proposals come on top of $3.9 billion in cuts borne by universities and students since 2011, and are in addition to a $3.7 billion proposed cut to university infrastructure funding.”
The proposals unveiled tonight would also shift the relative average contributions made by taxpayers and students from a 58/42 per cent split to 54/46 per cent.
The Government estimated this would amount to an increase in student contributions, on average, of between $2,000 and $3,600 for a four-year degree by 2021.
The higher education announcements made tonight do, however, include several new initiatives that universities have welcomed.
“We are pleased the Government has not cut the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and allocated $985 for each student from a financially disadvantaged background.”
“This payment will help universities continue to support those students who most need a little extra help to go to university and to complete a degree,” said Ms Robinson.
Universities Australia has strongly advocated for HEPPP funding to be maintained – and protected through legislation from future savings-driven budget raids.
“We also strongly support the decision to expand the demand-driven system to university diplomas and advanced diplomas, subject to conditions.”
Universities Australia also commends a proposed new payment for work integrated learning (WIL) placements that ensure students are as well prepared as possible for jobs after graduation.
This will help to implement the WIL strategy developed jointly by Universities Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Collaborative Education Network.
In other measures, the package also includes a proposal to tie 7.5 per cent of university funding for student places to university ‘accountability’ and ‘performance’.
“Universities are already highly accountable for their performance and heavily invested in the success of their students and alumni,” Ms Robinson said.
“We have very high student retention and completion rates by global standards.”
“This is a complex area that will need to be handled with great care so as to avoid unintended consequences and perverse outcomes. This is particularly true for universities that serve the most disadvantaged students and communities,” she said.
UA has long argued that HECS/HELP is a cornerstone policy that ensures the long-term sustainability, integrity and equity of Australia’s higher education system. We will consult experts on the proposed changes to ensure they do not undermine the intent of the scheme.
Other measures include:
- A proposed change to the repayment thresholds for HECS/HELP loans;
- A $1394 loading for government funding of vet science and dentistry places;
- Replacing subsidies for New Zealand permanent residents with access to FEE/HELP loans for all permanent residents;
- Teaching awards to be transferred to Universities Australia to administer;
- The creation of another six regional study hubs (in addition to the two existing hubs at Cooma and Geraldton);
- Reducing the number of post-graduate places in line with demand and the introduction of post-graduate scholarships from 2019;
- Enabling courses to be capped with a review on matching places to students needs to be undertaken every three years; and
- Replacing the $3,271 enabling course loading with the ability for universities to charge the same as a fee to be covered by HECS/HELP.