Higher education reforms deliver financial certainty to uni sector

6 October 2020

Centre Alliance will support an amended Jobs-Ready Graduates Package that delivers funding certainty to the university sector while giving disadvantaged students and students from regional areas greater access to university education, the Party’s Education Spokesperson Rebekha Sharkie said today.

“These legislative reforms are by no means perfect but overall Centre Alliance recognises what the Government is trying to achieve and what the university sector is calling for which is funding certainty following the 2017 indexation cuts,” the Federal Member for Mayo said.

“Without change, many universities were at risk of significant job losses and campus closures going into next year.

"I believe we also need to give the Government the opportunity to incentivise students to study in fields where we have serious skills shortages. 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".

“We also appreciate that there may be increased costs for students studying the humanities but we recognise that these reforms will provide a significant increase in university places from 2021 and that universities have the discretion to set fees that reflect the delivery of some courses. Students will be able to substantially reduce their fees if they study subjects or majors in areas that Government has identified as areas of need, such as studies in English or languages.

As part of negotiations with Centre Alliance, the Government has committed to providing additional Commonwealth Supported Places for South Australian universities that will see South Australia receive the same growth rate as Tasmania and regional Australia.

“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,” said Senator Stirling Griff, Centre Alliance Senator for South Australia.

“This is an excellent outcome for South Australia and will address the concerns expressed by the Vice-Chancellors of Flinders University, UniSA and the University of Adelaide who all pointed out that the original government proposal favoured universities in regional areas and those in cities experiencing high growth.

“With a high unemployment rate, a smaller population than other states and no regional universities, using a CPI calculation for new places was just not going to work for South Australia.”

In addition, Centre Alliance worked with the Government on the weighting of Commonwealth Supported Places in order to recognise the number of regional, low socioeconomic status, first-in-family and Indigenous students currently enrolled with each South Australian university, as well as defining the criteria for ‘special circumstances’ within the legislation for students who do not successfully complete their study units.

Centre Alliance has also negotiated funding for four study hubs across regional South Australia to provide extra support to regional students.

“We also advocated for the reinstatement of a 10 per cent discount for upfront FEE-Help student contributions, the confirmation of a professional pathway for psychology and social work and a formal independent review of these legislative reforms after 18 months,” Rebekha said.

Rebekha said the reforms would encourage universities to strengthen industry relationships and produce “job-ready graduates”.

“Another positive outcome of these reforms will hopefully be a strengthened focus on domestic students, particularly domestic students from the regions who have under-represented in our universities,” Rebekha said.

“Many Australian universities are on their knees suffering devastating financial losses due to the loss of international students thanks to COVID-19.

“With South Australian universities close to, or over, their cap of domestic students with some having been cross-subsidised by international students, we need to rethink the way in which we approach the domestic student market.”

Rebekha said the reforms had an emphasis on supporting higher education opportunities for Indigenous students and students from rural and low socio-economic backgrounds through a $500 million a year support program and one-off support payments of $5,000.

“I am also confident that with special circumstance provisions in place for students, embedded in legislation, universities will be encouraged to take on more of a mentoring and counselling role with students to prevent them missing out on Commonwealth support if they fail to complete at least half their units," Rebekha said.

“Students experiencing health or personal crises will be protected.”

Professor David Lloyd, Vice-Chancellor University of South Australia, said: “I very much welcome the efforts of the Centre Alliance team to secure a better deal for South Australia in the passage of the Job Ready Graduates (JRG) legislation. We will be best placed now to grow participation and attainment in higher education in our State.”

Professor Colin Stirling, Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University said:  “I welcome the commitment of Centre Alliance to ensuring that the Job Ready Graduates bill results in fair and equitable outcomes for South Australians, especially those from regional and rural areas. The guaranteed increase in funded places means that Flinders University will be able to continue to meet the growing demand for access to higher education as we develop the highly skilled graduates required for the future workforce.”

Professor Mike Brooks, Interim Vice-Chancellor, University of Adelaide said:  “I thank Rebekha Sharkie MP and Senator Stirling Griff for their ongoing advocacy for the South Australian community. Greater Adelaide and regional South Australia currently have the lowest proportion of university-qualified adults on the mainland. Under the status quo, universities face the prospect of continuous decline over the coming years. The new legislation contains some serious deficiencies, however, the amendments that Ms Sharkie and Senator Griff have secured are a step in the right direction. The way in which South Australia will be classified for the purposes of growth in domestic student enrolments will contribute to addressing the gap in educational attainment and help build the workforce for the future."

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