Worries reforms to regional universities will hurt students

19 Oct 2017

The Border Mail, 18 October 2017

By Shana Morgan


Regional and metropolitan universities have urged federal senators to block the government’s planned changes to education funding and back Indi MP Cathy McGowan’s idea instead.

The Group of Eight, made up of institutions such as the University of Melbourne and University of Sydney, wanted to see the government establish a national regional higher education strategy.

Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson congratulated Ms McGowan on the initiative.

“It is overdue and does not require legislation to develop. The Go8 would be keen to work constructively on this,” she said.

The group argued the Higher Education Reform Bill’s cuts to university funding would force them to make difficult choices about teaching, student and research resources and have serious impacts on access, choice and quality of education.

Ms McGowan said she would be talking to government and crossbench senators this week about the higher education reforms.

“It’s got the potential of really hurting our regional universities so I’m saying to the government, we need to do this better,” she said.

“I’m really, really pleased to get the support of universities because when I negotiate with the government, it really helps if I’ve got a solution to their problem.”

La Trobe University used its recent submission into the decentralisation inquiry to call for a  regional higher education policy to address the high costs.

The submission referred to a 2017 report which revealed higher education teaching and scholarship costs were 17 per cent higher for regional students.

“There is a strong case for increasing and modifying the regional loading … to assist higher education institutions with regional campuses to meet additional costs due to their location. The current regional loading does not come close to matching the cost levels that the government’s commissioned research identifies,” it stated.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham told the ABC last week he would push ahead with his original plan.

“We’re taking action around the student loans programs, which have $50 billion worth of unpaid student debt against the government account at present, and under current settings one quarter of that is estimated not to be repaid,” he said.

“It’s why we do need to proceed with reforms through the Senate to ensure more of that is repaid to maintain sustainability of student loans."