Australia: minister criticises v-cs’ opposition to ‘modest’ changes

Simon Birmingham defends plans for 7.5 per cent increase in fees and 2.5 per cent funding cut

September 8, 2017

Australia’s education minister has defended plans for “modest” fee increases and funding cuts, criticising vice-chancellors for opposing the plans.

The government’s plans, which include a 2.5 per cent cut in university funding and a 7.5 per cent increase in tuition fees, are aimed at addressing the national budget deficit.

Simon Birmingham told the Australian Financial Review’s Higher Education Summit that he was “confident that university leaders, including many intelligent people in this room, can manage the proposed 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend”.

He added, in reference to abandoned earlier plans to lift the fee cap entirely: “I note that some vc-s have expressed concern at these modest fee increases, yet all but one v-c supported full fee-deregulation as part of the previous package.”

The package also includes plans to allocate 7.5 per cent of funding on a performance-contingent basis.

The changes must pass through the Senate, where the Liberal-led government does not have a majority. There are indications that key crossbenchers are at present unwilling to back the plans.

Reports have suggested that Mr Birmingham is considering an alternative package of cuts if the Senate blocks his current plans, which are part of the government’s budget.

The minister also said: “Now, I appreciate that nobody likes receiving less funding, even if it is only a slightly slower rate of growth than would otherwise have been the case. However, the sector is kidding itself if it thinks the pressure to address the contribution escalating higher education spending made to the budget deficit will just go away.

“There are plenty of areas where universities can manage their costs within their available revenues; savings and efficiencies don’t have to go to the heart of teaching, learning or regional campuses. And remember this: revenue to universities from government-supported sources is still projected to increase by some 23 per cent between 2017 and 2021. That’s a level of funding certainty that would make many businesses envious.”

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