Refund students for ‘dud’ degrees, Australian Liberal Party urges

A domestic university ranking system could hold universities to account for all aspects of their performance, says shadow education minister

August 23, 2023
Source: iStock

Australia’s opposition party says universities should be forced to refund students for “dud” degrees, including purported on-campus courses that end up being delivered online.

In a combative address to the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit, Sarah Henderson, the shadow education minister, called for a national ranking system to hold universities accountable for “every aspect” of their performance.

“This could also serve as a powerful tool for policymakers and funding bodies, offering a data-driven approach to the allocation of valuable resources,” she said. “Excellence could be rewarded, and dud degrees – and there’s a few out there – could be defunded.

“Now there’s an idea which will stir a few v-cs out of their ivory towers.”

She accused the government of “scrambling after dropping the ball” in its “last-minute” bill to force universities to adopt detailed student support policies. “If universities are going to face financial consequences for not providing adequate support for students, perhaps they should wear some of the liability for the consequential student debt.

“As contentious as that may be, it’s just not acceptable that only 41 per cent of undergraduates are completing their four-year degree in that time, with 21 per cent dropping out altogether.”

Ms Henderson said the opposition was “carefully considering” how universities could be held to account “for their current practices, which far too often put students last”.

She said that if universities did not offer a “better” response to workforce shortages, industry would have “no choice but to step in and recruit and train the best and brightest from school, making a university course for these students unnecessary.

“You reap what you sow. Young Australians deserve better. Parents deserve better, and our country deserves better.”

Ms Henderson also censured universities for a cycle of “mediocrity” in education. She said “deficient” university courses produced poorly trained teachers who undermined the literacy and numeracy of children who went on to become second-rate university students.

Asked why her Liberal Party had not used its nine years in government to change the policies she objected to, such as the student loan repayment arrangements that she said had produced a graduate “debt disaster”, Ms Henderson responded that the issues she had raised were “more than just about politics”.

“You can laugh,” she told conference delegates. “If I wasn’t brave enough to say we need to do better, then I wouldn’t be doing my job.

“I am angry and you should be, too. Our education system is failing young Australians.”

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