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Issue #1613      October 2, 2013

Hidden agenda on university cuts confirmed

Earlier this year, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) warned that a Coalition government was hiding the range and breadth of funding cuts planned to universities.

“Unfortunately, the NTEU’s predictions that an Abbott-led government would take an axe to university funding and scrap targets to lift participation of disadvantaged students now appear to be confirmed,” said NTEU national president Jeannie Rea.

Responding to comments made by Minister Pyne that the Coalition government was planning a major overhaul of the higher education sector, Rea said, “Clearly, the Coalition never planned to be upfront on their plans for universities.

“The Prime Minister told the Australian people that he would lead a government offering no ‘nasty surprises, and no lame excuses’, but within the first month of government they have announced plans to roll back student access, axe services, dump the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and cut funding to the sector by $2 billion. It is clear that the Coalition have had a hidden agenda on universities for some time.”

The opening up of universities under Labor has enabled 190,000 more students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access higher education. However, the Coalition’s changes will diminish access to a university education.

“Mr Pyne’s announcement that the Coalition government is also considering a reintroduction on caps on student places directly contradicts the commitment he gave two months ago when he said that the Coalition had ‘no plans to restore the cap’.”

Ms Rea said, “Of particular concern is the announcement that the Coalition plans to axe the HECS-based SSAF which supports student services and representation, despite a sector-wide review last year clearly demonstrating the value of the SSAF.”

Although the student services fee per student is modest and rolled into HECS, it is vital for the provision of non-academic services on campuses, such as childcare, welfare, sport and recreational activities.

Ms Rea said the decision to remove the SSAF is clearly based on political ideology and bias. “It is not based on logic, commonsense, or what is best for our universities and students. Mr Pyne is clearly focusing upon the proportion of the SSAF which supports student advocacy and representative structures.

“Closing down critical voices of students through their student organisations should be antithetical to a government which purports to support freedom of speech”, added Rea.

“While Minister Pyne claims that the Coalition is concerned with quality in higher education, these announcements are a retrograde step which are likely to negatively impact upon both access and quality.”

Next article – Aged care wilderness

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