University responses

The Innovative Research Universities spoke for the system yesterday in condemning MYEFO;

“the government’s planned freeze on university funding is a simple act of revenge that ignores the cogent reasons the Senate has not passed its last higher education package.  Revenge is a dish best not eaten.”

The IRU argued demand driven funding is not yet dead, but in its newly infirm state incapable of continuing a job still to complete.  “Higher education is more available but it remains badly distributed.  A funding freeze, and then limited increases according to national population growth, will embed that mal-distribution for a further generation –  if allowed to go ahead.” The IRU called on the Senate to defend demand driven funding, which is still set in legislation; “allowing a future government to see sense and embrace universities as essential to building the capabilities required in the Australian workforce of the future.”

The Australian Technology Network also deplored the big policy switch in yesterday’s announcement.

“Effectively signalling the end of the demand driven system, with no legislation or debate represents a significant and retrograde stepATN Executive Director, Renee Hindmarsh said.

“Debate about higher education funding has largely focused on the increased costs since the introduction of the demand driven system. We accept that higher education does not exist in an economic vacuum. But this debate should also recognise the social and economic contribution universities make to society, yet this has been overlooked.”

Peak body Universities Australia was quick to denounce the package yesterday, saying the funding freeze will force universities to cut student numbers.

“Under this freeze, even if a university simply seeks to maintain its current number of students, this would mean a real cut, … for universities that are still growing their student numbers to meet the needs in their local communities and regional economies, this will be an even deeper cut,” UA chair and Monash U VC Margaret Gardner said.

The “effective cut” of $2.1bn “would result in a smaller share of Australians having the chance of a university education in future. The decision to uncap student places in Australia was an historic reform that lifted skilled graduate numbers to meet Australia’s labour force needs and contributed to social inclusion,” she said.

However, UA quietly welcomed the survival of equity programmes and no reduction in research funding.

The Regional Universities Network was even unhappier than other groups, discounting the government’s announcement of eight regional study hubs, with president Greg Hill (University of the Sunshine Coast VC)  warning that an end to demand driven funding will undermine good policy.

“The government has encouraged the growth in university places through the demand driven student system, and our universities have responded by building new infrastructure, putting on new courses, and undertaking outreach activities to lift aspiration for university study. This will go to waste because universities will not be able to enrol more students,” Professor Hill said.

There was less than little support for the government and that was qualified. The Australian Academy of Science welcomed the NCI’s new computer (above) but added; “the Academy remains concerned about the potential impact of the higher education measures on both the pipeline of STEM graduates and vital research that is undertaken in Australian universities.”

But it was left to the Group of Eight to let the world really know what some universities think.

“Today is the benchmark of diminished higher education policy, from a government determined to bypass the legislative process that so rightly indicated majority opposition to the ill-considered cuts to university funding; savings presented as reform rather than the blatant cuts they are, and which today they are so clearly exposed to be” chair and University of Queensland VC Peter Hoj said yesterday.

Professor Hoj also slammed the government’s plan to allocate extra undergraduate places based on performance measures.

“It is all very well to go on about performance measures and visibility of our decisions and successes but it is our universities who can get no sense re what the government plans in these areas. It is the government that remains opaque – not us.”

However, the Group of Eight, not a strong supporter of the demand driven system, did not mention the cap on Commonwealth funded places.


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