Government set to get its way on uni funding

Education Minister Dan Tehan needs one senator for his funding bill to pass, he got it yesterday 

What happened: The state of the Senate means Mr Tehan needs three cross-bench votes to pass his bill – two are from Pauline Hanson and Macolm Roberts. Of the other cross-benchers Jacqui Lambie (Tasmania) and South Australian, Rex Patrick (now independent, recently Centre Alliance) are adamant nays.

Which meant it came down to SA senator Stirling Griff (Centre Alliance) who in-line with his House of Representatives party colleague Rebekha Sharkie announced yesterday he will back the bill, just before debate on it started in the Senate.

Why: Senator Griff and Ms Sharkie say they are backing an amended version of the original bill, “that delivers funding certainty to the university sector while giving disadvantaged students and students from regional areas greater access to university education.”

“Regional areas” like metropolitan Adelaide, where the state’s three public universities all have their main campuses. “This means substantial extra funding for our three universities over four years, over above current funding allocations, and an additional 12,000 students will have access to a university education over a four-year period,” Senator Griff says.

Critics were quick to point to Ms Sharkie’s original response to the bill’s provision of increased course costs for law, business and humanities students. “I will be forever grateful to Flinders U for my arts degree, it took me ten years to complete while working and raising three children. I would not have had my career or the privilege of sitting in the Houses of Representative without it,” she  said (CMM June 22).  However yesterday Ms Shark  stated, “it is ridiculous that year after year we churn out thousands of law graduates, many of whom will never work in law, and yet we import engineering graduates. Something has to change”. This is in-line with her 2017 warning, “we must look at how we prepare the next generation for the world of work to ensure young people successfully transition to sustainable employment. Right now, we have university educated young people stacking shelves at supermarkets because there are few graduate jobs,” (CMM June 22 2020).

Response: Social media was far from speechless with rage at Centre Alliance as news broke yesterday. The National Tertiary Education Union’s Alison Barnes was out early, setting the tone for the lobbies that opposed the bill, saying the government “has completely abandoned Australian universities during their worst ever crisis.
“Rather than stepping in with a robust support package, the Liberals and Nationals have pushed the cost of the crisis onto students and the university workforce. Livelihoods and careers will be destroyed and damaged by this legislation.”

However university peak bodies, including some which have ambivalently, backed the bill kept quiet, likely waiting until the Senate actually passes it. Although the VCs of SA’s three public universities Mike Brooks (Uni Adelaide), David Lloyd (Uni SA) and Colin Stirling (Flinders U) expressed support for more UG place for SA in Centre Alliance’s announcement.