Cuts to come: what the government could do now

Education Minister Simon Birmingham can still defy the will of the Senate to make savings. The minister could reverse budget support for equity research. He could create a performance metric which claws cash back from under-performing universities rather than distributes it among other institutions, as his now defeated plan proposed. He could cut research funding for universities, while leaving the ARC intact, for cover. And he could tinker with the basis of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme indexation formula, based on CPI as of next year. As he said yesterday, “we will consider the options of this decision for higher education policy and, as always, will also ensure any budget implications are addressed.”

And yesterday Rebekha Sharkie appeared to put demand driven funding on the agenda of the NXT required review saying;

“Currently, we have students who are leaving university with high debts and little opportunity of securing stable employment in their area of study. We have too many highly qualified young people, with PhD degrees, stacking supermarket shelves or making lattes. We need to do better than this.”

Senator Birmingham could look for savings on this basis by capping growth in UG places. While this would be tricky given the government’s continuing support for demand driven funding, not all university lobbies are solid in support of the existing all-but open access scheme. The government could stretch existing money by transferring funds from HE to sub-degree places in VET institutions.


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