Sixty per cent of the Australian public oppose “backdoor cuts” to university funding, according to polling released by Universities Australia, as the government considers other ways to push through its budget plans.
After the government was thwarted by Senate opposition to its plans for university funding cuts, tuition fee rises and the introduction of a performance-related element to funding, it is now said to be considering “all options” to achieve spending cuts by non-legislative means.
Simon Birmingham, the education minister, is reported to be looking at options including “axing the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program, or Heppp, which helps students from low-income families access university,” the Guardian reported on 4 December. “More worryingly for universities, the government is reportedly also considering a funding freeze for student enrolments at 2017 levels, which would, in effect, pause the demand-driven funding system,” it added.
Cuts to research funding are also said to be under consideration after the government was defeated in its original plans, which included a 2.5 per cent cut in university funding and a 7.5 per cent increase in tuition fees.
On 5 December, Universities Australia released the results of polling that it commissioned on the plan to achieve cuts without legislation. The poll of 1,575 Australians, carried out by JWS Research, revealed that 63 per cent of voters say that cuts would limit access.
“Voters are also opposed to a bid to cut funding without Parliamentary approval to either university research funds or the flagship equity program that supports poorer students to go to university,” Universities Australia said.
“Sixty per cent of voters oppose each of those possible backdoor cuts – with even stronger levels of opposition among older voters and regional/rural voters.”
“The government keeps coming up with creative new ways to cut funding to public universities, but the message from voters remains the same: it’s the wrong decision for Australia’s future,” said Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson.
“The Senate has been crystal clear on this too, and would quite rightly take a dim view of any bid to go around the legislative protections for higher education funding."
She added: “While Australia is considering cutting research funding, our economic competitors are doing the opposite.
“The UK is injecting an extra £2.3bn into research and development to reach their target of spending 2.4 per cent of GDP. Australia can’t afford to disinvest in research that will drive our future economic growth.”