No deal on deregulation: opponents will not budge

Plus why universities oppose yet another inquiry

Turd degree

“You can polish a turd for as long as you want but it is always going to be a turd and that is what the higher education bill is.” PUP senator Glenn Lazarus on talk of concessions to the Pyne Package MkII. 

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No to Nick

Senator Nick Xenophon’s proposal for yet another review of higher education turned out to be a circuit breaker, sort of. While nobody much liked it, his call for another committee started people talking about ways to break the Senate stalemate over the deregulation legislation. However the university lobby groups, which would be crucial to any review certainly made it clear that it is time for a deal not a debate.

“It’s difficult to see how yet another review could advance the work – and outcomes – of the Bradley and Lomax-Smith reviews,” Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson said yesterday.

“We invariably end up in the same place – a sector which is underfunded – a situation compounded by the demand driven system. The most recent budget papers estimate that the opening up of the system will require an additional $7.6 billion in spending over the next five years just to keep up with enrolments. A full scale review of the nature suggested by the Senator does not solve the immediate challenges facing the sector,” she added.

“RUN isn’t enthusiastic about the prospect of another inquiry at this stage after the Bradley, Lomax-Smith, Kemp Norton and Saunders (regional loading) reviews, “ Regional Universities Network chief Caroline Perkins agreed.

“We acknowledge Senator Xenophon’s desire for a well based future system of government funding and student charges. There have been extensive reviews of most issues over the past decade, which have established the rationale for an open higher education system available to all and the need for better resourcing. These have not directly explored the consequences of fee deregulation but there has been extensive debate about it from all sides. The unknown is what will happen in practice – not what could or should happen,” said the Innovative Research Universities’ Conor King.

And Universities Australia’s deputy CEO Anne-Marie Lansdown suggested the policy issue is settled;

“There have already been a number of major reviews into university funding over the past few years. … With public finances likely to continue to be constrained in the future, the sector has come to a consensus position in favour of de-regulation of university fees with certain conditions. These include reducing the magnitude of the accompanying cut in per student funding, larger structural adjustment and an expert panel to review any fee increases. Universities Australia remains ready to continue to talk to the cross bench senators and the government on these issues.”

You don’t need an inquiry to understand what the university lobbies want.

(The Australian Technology Network declined to comment for this story).

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Hold the front page (i)

In breaking news the Australian Science Media Centre reports, “suspected supernovae dust, that has settled on ocean floors, has lower levels of heavy elements than expected.”

And (ii)

The Australian National University advises, “Professor Thomas Faunce is spending the OzDay long weekend in the NSW town of Narromine

All about ideology

It seems the nays still have the Senate numbers. Speculation that the government would drop some, or all, of its proposed student fee increase to get deregulation adopted went nowhere yesterday. Labor leader Bill Shorten dismissed it as kite-flying and his deputy Tanya Plibersek banged on about “$100 000 degrees.” As did shadow education minister Kim Carr, “the spectre of $100,000 degrees still hangs over Australian students and Labor won’t support students being gouged in this way.”

But it was Labor’s Mark Butler, on Adelaide radio with Mr Pyne, who made the crucial point that the principle of deregulation was fundamental and that is why the package is “a dead duck.” “Christopher might have got rid of the bond rate as the indexation rate for university fees in December, and that was a very big problem in the package. He might even be toying with the idea of getting rid of the 20 per cent funding cut … but he still has a fundamental problem with the fee hikes, the deregulation.”

The cost of degrees was never the only issue for the alliance of opponents of the Pyne package – they oppose the idea of a free market in education. As National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea put it yesterday;

“fee deregulation and subsidising private providers is at the core of the government’s policy and it seems they will make all sorts of promises to try and get support. But it is the consequences of deregulation where some universities will charge much higher fees and some will struggle to attract students unless they lower fees and therefore compromise on education quality is exactly what is rejected by senators.

“We do not want to go down the path of Americanisation where what university you went to matters rather than the degree you have earned.

“The NTEU believes that the only way of protecting the integrity and reputation of Australia’s world class public higher education system is to ensure that entry into an Australian university should be based on a student’s academic ability, and not their capacity to pay.”

Senator Xenophon also invoked the spectre of ugly Americans yesterday; “deregulation by itself could be a dangerous path to go down. We could end up with an Americanisation of our system where you have some very good universities, world-class universities, but then you have other universities that fall off the perch in terms of quality and standard.”

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CQU engineers expansion

Scott Bowman continues to expand CQU onto turf traditionally James Cook U’s. If the government is returned at the imminent state election Premier Campbell Newman promises CQU $1m to fund the electrical and mechanical engineering degrees it intends to launch in Cairns next year.

Unremarkable ATARs

Now the annual “oh no, standards are slipping” ATAR alarm is over last night’s release of NSW university offers did not match the shock-horror stories that accompanied the Victorian announcement earlier in the week. In essence overall offers via the Universities Admission Centre are down but most of the decline is due to the growth in university-specific early entrance schemes.

Obamaisation not Amerification

Barack Obama on what college should cost, State of the Union yesterday:

“America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more. By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”

Expect to see this quoted as often here as is it there. I’m guessing this is one form of Americanisation even Jeannie Rea will approve of. In fact her colleagues already have. Last night the NSW branch of the NTEU called on Tony Abbott to follow the president’s lead.

Not printed in what?

The NSW Universities Admissions Centre advises that undergraduate main round offers are available on its website but, “they are no longer printed in the newspapers.” I wonder how many 18 year old will know what that means.

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Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au