Australian government plans under fire from HE sector

Universities warn of damage from cuts and performance-contingent funding proposals

July 11, 2017
Australian Parliament, Canberra
Australian Parliament, Canberra

The Australian government’s plans to cut university budgets and introduce performance-related teaching funding have come under further fire from universities.

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. But they face an uncertain passage through Parliament.

The University of Melbourne’s submission describes the reform package as “a piecemeal policy offering” that would “cause severe detriment across the system if implemented”, the Australian reported. “This is not a package representing genuine sectoral reform,” the submission says.

The government’s package also contains plans to allocate 7.5 per cent of funding on a performance-contingent basis.

Western Sydney University says that the proposal “would throw almost any university into operating deficit” if applied, the Australian reported.

The Australian Catholic University’s submission says: “It would be a perverse outcome if, under the banner of improving the sustainability of higher education, the government’s reforms forced some universities to shut their doors.

“A quarter of all Australian universities would be in deficit if subjected to this level of funding cut.”

Meanwhile, Simon Birmingham, the education minister, provoked controversy when he said: “Australian universities have been enjoying a serious flow of money – rivers of gold, if you like – since the demand-driven system for universities was put in place a number of years ago.

“I think the university sector, while maybe wanting to cling to every revenue stream it can, needs to be realistic that it’s been on an incredibly good wicket.”

Universities would receive funding growth “a little bit slower than it would have otherwise been” under the government’s changes, he said. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Universities Australia said in its submission to the Senate inquiry: “The government has claimed that universities are able to absorb the proposed funding cuts based on their published accounting surpluses.

“This argument misunderstands the true position of universities and how they operate.”

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