University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini says New Uni Policy 'Not Pain-Free'

3 May 2017

The Canberra Times, May 3, 2017
by Emily Baker

University of Canberra vice-chancellor Deep Saini​ has vowed to minimise the impact of fee increases on his students while admitting broader funding cuts have put a dampener on his decision to move to Australia from Canada less than a year ago.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced this week the government would lower the HECS threshold more than $10,000 to $42,000, increase student fees by about 8 per cent and impose a 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend on universities.

As well, future funding will be tied to a university's completion rates, student satisfaction and employment outcomes.

Professor Saini welcomed the positives of Monday's announcements, including the retention of the Higher Education Partnership and Participation Program which aims to help disadvantaged students succeed, but said the proposed policy was not all good news.

"We are told constantly that universities bring $22 billion into the Australian economy and it's the largest service export from the country, the third largest export overall," he said.

"[This] is not happy news in anybody's books and that comes on top of the $3.9 billion that has been cut since 2011. There is $3.7 billion in cuts that's proposed for university infrastructure.

"To go and cut such a huge amount of that sector that is creating so many jobs, that is helping our economy in such a way, that's not a pleasant experience to have eight months after I arrived in this country."

The university was conscious that students would be forced to fork out under the changes, Professor Saini said, adding "we are not going to create more pain for our students".

"But we certainly will keep our fees in line with the sector and we operate within that sector so we have a university to manage and we will take all the measures that we can," he said.

"Our first focus will be how can we become even more efficient."

Vice-chancellor salaries were used by Senator Birmingham as an example of how universities could save money.

Professor Saini's salary has not yet been released, but the University of Canberra's 2015 annual report had one executive, likely former vice-chancellor and president Stephen Parker, on between $800,000 and $809,999.

"The minister spoke about competition for example when I brought up [Monday] night the issue of $5 billion for tax breaks to the businesses, his answer was that we compete on the world stage," Professor Saini said.

"We also compete on the world stage for talent and among various factors that make us win or lose - salaries is one of them."

The Group of Eight, which represents the Australian National University, said it could not welcome a policy "characterised by cuts to university funding and increases to students".

"The success of our thriving education export industry rests on its quality and quality requires investment for the long term," chief executive Vicki Thomson said.

"This package does not provide a long-term vision for the future which will sustain this success or Australia's standing."