Claire Field on the Budget: stay braced


Last week’s Budget raises the question of where and when reform really happens  

While many, myself included, thought the Budget should have provided additional funding for universities to mitigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the lack of any additional funding served to highlight the significance of the myriad reforms implemented by former education minister, Dan Tehan.

While Australia’s closed international borders have hit universities hard, the impact has not been consistent and in some universities other factors are at play (see Marshman and Larkins’ typically excellent analysis .

The changes resulting from the Job-ready Graduates package are also having an impact due to the imposition of an overall funding cap and lower average funding per student place, leaving universities looking to growth through increased HECS loan revenues (equally excellent analysis  from Andrew Norton).

And then there is research. Last year’s $1 bn boost was not just a COVID-response, it was also temporary funding while the Research Sustainability Working Group finalises advice to government on future research funding.

Even as the sector waits for clarity on research funding, there are likely to be serious threats for some universities as the new Higher Education Provider Category Standards come into play. Minister Tehan’s reforms, combined with COVID-19, could leave Australia with fewer universities.

And so, to the VET sector – it received very welcome additional funding in the Budget with a one year extension of the JobTrainer programme, an extension of the Building Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidies, and a number of other new funding measures.

The reality though is that major VET funding reforms are still to come in the next National Skills Agreement due by the end of August. What they will mean for providers and students is not clear. It is quite likely though, that their impact could be just as consequential as the reforms Minister Tehan introduced into higher education.

Claire Field is the host of the free  What Now? What Next? podcast. In the latest episode, she unpacks the Federal Budget.


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