UA chief Gardner slams government: “there is money to cut taxes but cuts to education”

In a robust challenge to Canberra quietly abolishing demand driven undergraduate places, Universities Australia president Margaret Gardner says the government must explain whether there was a “direct-decision” to end the system as part of a Mid-Year Economic Forecast and Outlook funding cut announced just before Christmas. “This is a big policy decision which was not debated,” she says.

Professor Gardner also declines to consider Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s MYEFO statement that any future growth in student numbers at a university will depend on institutions meeting yet to be determined performance metrics. “First we need to answer whether the funding cut is a statement about Demand Driven Funding or it was just a cut in the MYEFO statement.

She also calls for experts across the tertiary system to engage with the community in a national discussion of what Australia will need to prosper in the “knowledge century,” signalling that the Universities Australia conference in March will be a good place to start. “UA needs to have a discussion and reach out to all tertiary education sectors.”

Instead of “reactive change on the basis of a funding cut” there must be an “evidence-based, research-based discussion, “not an exchange of op eds,” the UA president and Monash University vice chancellor told CMM yesterday.

While Professor Gardner declines to define terms of engagement, saying it is “too early to say what the core issues will be,” she will “raise questions about the sustainability of tertiary education for Australia,” at UA.

Professor Gardner’s statement sets Universities Australia at odds with Senator Birmingham, who dismissed a return to demand driven funding after a two-year MYEFO freeze on university funding; saying the government’s policy “is now settled,” (CMM December 19). However she also wants the Opposition to state its position.


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