School-leaver applications for university in 2015 are up by 2 per cent on last year, a figure hailed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne as evidence the Labor and union scare campaign about $100,000 university fees is failing.
“Students are still lining up for the benefits and satisfaction of a tertiary education,” Mr Pyne will tell The Australian Financial Review Higher Education Reform Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“Despite populism, scare mongering, deception, and the uncertainty surrounding the higher education reforms … I am pleased to see preliminary university applications for the 2015 academic year right on trend.”
Mr Pyne cites preliminary figures collected from university admissions centres, where most school leavers lodge their applications.
The 2 per cent rise leaves out Western Australian universities, where numbers of school leavers starting degrees will fall sharply next year due to a change in the school leaving age.
The increasing number of school leavers planning to attend university is good news for the government and backs its assertion that its higher education deregulation package will not put off students, even though it allows universities to hike fees and will, for the first time, apply a real interest rate to HECS student loans.
Since announcing his plans in May, Mr Pyne has argued that students will see the advantage of continuing to pay no up-front fees for a bachelor's degree, and not making any loan repayments until they earn around $50,000 a year.
The overall number of applications for university through the admission centres is down 1.1 per cent from last year, a similar figure to the year before.
This is likely to be from more mature age applicants applying directly to universities and bypassing the admission centres. The proportion of students making direct applications has risen from 20 per cent to 27 per cent in the last four years, and nearly all direct applications are from mature age students.
In his speech Mr Pyne will accuse opponents of his plans of opportunism from people who know “in their heart of hearts” that reform is required.
“Blatant populism has no place in a debate such as this and should be called for what it is. It is deception,” he will say.