Birmingham puts hold on deregulation of uni fees planned for next year
Oct 13, 2015 | News
Controversial plans to deregulate university fees have been shelved – at least until 2107.
Education minister Simon Birmingham announced the policy change at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in Melbourne, saying universities and students needed certainty about funding for next year.
Plans to cut direct funding by 20 per cent and allow universities to set their own course fees from next year have twice been voted down by the senate since their announcement in the 2014 budget.
They have sparked nationwide student protests and staunch opposition from The Greens and Labour, despite being backed by Universities Australia which represents Australia’s 39 universities.
There will now be no new legislation until after the next Federal Election, allowing the education minister to reshape the debate.
Mr Birmingham said: “With only three months left in 2015, it is necessary to give both universities and students certainty about what the higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will be.
“Therefore, today I am announcing that higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will not be changed from currently legislated arrangements, while the government consults further on reforms for the future.
“Any future reforms, should they be legislated, would not commence until 2017 at the earliest.”
Mr Birmingham has called for ideas from the Senate cross-benchers, universities, students and business groups as he works to develop his proposals over coming months.
He used the speech to outline his credentials as an everyman - in contrast to his predecessor Christopher Pyne.
“When I reflect upon my personal experience - government schooled, in a below average socio-economic area, with parents who never attended a university, I am resolutely committed to equitable access,” he said.
“To those who claim consideration of reform is about ideology or privilege, you are dead wrong. I will only ever champion reforms that achieve both equity and excellence.”
Despite its initial support for the Pyne reforms, Universities Australia has welcomed an opportunity to revisit the proposals - particularly the 20 per cent (A$1.9 billion) cut in direct Government funding.
Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said: “The debate must now focus on how we deliver strong and sustainable funding that enables our universities to continue the world class education and research that Australia needs.
“The confirmation that next year’s funding will be unchanged gives the sector optimism that the proposed 20 per cent funding for university education in future years could be scrapped.”