Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie thanked those crossbench senators who negotiated amendments to the higher education reforms legislation, that complement the government’s commitment to ensuring a quality education is accessible to more students, especially those from disadvantaged and regional backgrounds.
“In doing so, these senators were responding to feedback from universities, students and other stakeholders that they consulted with and represent,” she said.
“The government acknowledged and responded to concerns about aspects of the legislation raised by these senators. Amendments include withdrawing the proposed Treasury bond rate and retaining CPI indexation for HECS debts, providing the indexation pause for new parents, providing a structural adjustment fund to help universities adjust to the changes, introduce an additional scholarship fund for universities with higher proportions of disadvantaged students, and guaranteeing domestic students’ fees are lower than what international students are charged. The government will also direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor fees in the higher education sector as soon as it is deregulated.
“These amendments complement the government’s efforts, through its proposed reforms, to make a quality higher education more accessible and affordable to students with an emphasis on those from disadvantaged, indigenous, regional and first generation backgrounds. Notably these include extending government support to sub-bachelor courses and to private higher education providers, providing many pathways to pursuing further education; the provision of Commonwealth Scholarships; and abolishing up-front HELP loan fees. The government will also invest $11 billion in research and excellence.
“It is therefore extremely disappointing that debate was blocked by Labor, Greens and other crossbench senators, with the legislation now reintroduced with amendments and to be debated early next year.
“These reforms are strongly supported by the higher education sector which has repeatedly appealed to senators to support them. The sector and students are undoubtedly frustrated with the continued uncertainty as a result of yesterday’s stunt to shut down debate.
“I urge senators to reconsider their objections and consult more with the sector – not the unions, Labor or Greens – during the summer break. The government is open to further negotiations as it has been since the reforms were first proposed.
“Labor has no credibility in this debate given its record of $6.6 billion of cuts to higher education. What they didn’t cut, they left unfunded.
“Further, Labor’s higher education spokesperson, Senator Carr, is in favour of capping government funded student places, despite his denials, in preference to the demand-driven system the former Labor government introduced.”
He said: “That’s a tremendous opportunity for working-class students but we have to make sure that across the system quality also remains a priority. I am a very strong believer in equity, but I am also a believer in excellence. So I need to consider whether it is appropriate here to re-examine the growth rates in the university system.” (Source: The Guardian, 1 July 2013)
“I’m very concerned that there has been a rapid growth in the number of people participating in universities and concerned to ensure that proper equity is maintained in the Australian education system.” (Source: The Conversation, 2 July 2013)
Senator McKenzie said the demand-driven system opened up university places to more students, many from the regions, yet Labor’s cuts impacted the sustainability of the sector.
The Education Department’s submission to the recent senate inquiry into the higher education reforms stated that between 2012 and 2013, domestic undergraduate low SES student enrolments increased by 7.2 per cent to 124 193, and the participation rate improved from 17.1 per cent in 2012 to 17.3 per cent in 2013. The Kemp-Norton review made a similar conclusion, stating that in 2013, the equivalent of 577,000 full-time students received Commonwealth support in paying their tuition costs, an increase of more than 100,000 on 2009. These included students from regional, disadvantaged and Indigenous backgrounds.
“Senator Carr wants to return to the old days which saw more rich kids than regional and disadvantaged students access and afford a university education. Crossbench senators should consider this when hopefully reviewing the reintroduced legislation,” Senator McKenzie said.
“To not support these reforms will be a devastating blow to the more than 80,000 students who stand to benefit from the increased opportunities that will become available to them. Many of these students live in the regions represented by crossbench senators.”