How two vice chancellors see it

June 28, 1996

John Hay, vice chancellor of the University of Queensland: "HECS is a reasonable scheme. On the whole, it addresses the needs of first-degree students. The biggest problem is that all students pay the same despite the cost of the course; but there is agitation now to increase HECS for high-cost areas.

"The main problem with HECS is that it does not address all the costs of higher education. Dollars per student have been diminishing since the 1980s and we have to find an increasing amount of money from non-government sources. International students is one area which has risen very steeply. Southeast Asia has been a growth area, but we cannot rely on this.

"We need to pressure the Government for more money: salaries are appalling and this is beginning to affect the quality of staff entering universities. You could be in your 30s with a first-class degree, a PhD and publications and still be offered a three-year contract on Pounds 18,000 (Pounds 9,000) a year.

"We need to continue diversifying sources of income and this would be helped if the government offered businesses a tax break for making donations to universities. We need to introduce more fee-paying courses for those in employment in the professions and business. We must look at the idea of professional doctorates, which combine both course work and a thesis that ties in with the work people are doing.

"We need also to change the allocation of research money. To spread funds over 37 universities is a bad idea. We cannot afford it. Big research effort must be concentrated in a few universities if we are going to compete internationally."

Gerard Sutton, vice chancellor of the University of Wollongong: "No system is perfect and HECS is as equitable as any. There are problems with it. It is estimated that perhaps 47 per cent of women will not pay back their debt.

"There is a proposal now for students to pay more for more expensive courses. This could kill science, as such a degree does not necessarily lead to high earning jobs.

"Since HECS was introduced, universities have had to cope with a cut in government dollars per student as well as coping with a 2 per cent pay rise. We have done this with efficiency gains and by increasing sources of non-government funds. Wollongong now has 13 per cent foreign students. In the future we will have to look to courses which can attract postgraduate fees. Those who want research money concentrated in a few universities are off with the pixies.

"If the government fails to keep its election promise and cuts funds, the most rational thing to do would be to close two universities."

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