House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Questions without Notice

Higher Education Reforms

2:42 pm

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Education. Will the minister inform the House how the government's higher education reforms will benefit students from disadvantaged backgrounds?

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for McMillan for his question. It is a very important question. The higher education reforms of the government will benefit disadvantaged students more than any other cohort in society. That is simply a statement of fact. In three ways, we will ensure that students from low-SES backgrounds and first generation university goers get to go to university in record numbers.

Eighty thousand more students will get to go to university under our reforms than would be the case if there were no changes in the higher education sector. Why is that the case? Because the Higher Education Contribution Scheme is the most generous loan scheme in the world. It has transformed the university sector and has brought more revenue to universities, which means that they can enrol more students. Of course, that means that every student, no matter what their background, can borrow that money from the taxpayer and get a higher education qualification.

But we are going even further: we are not just keeping HECS; we are also expanding the demand-driven system to the sub-bachelor courses, the pathways programs, that low-SES students use to break into the university sector. We are expanding that so more students will be able to use those pathways programs to get to go to university. We are also going to establish the largest Commonwealth scholarships fund in the history of Australia. Sydney University has already announced that their scholarships will go from 700 to 9,000. The Vice-Chancellor has said that at the moment at the University of Sydney, seven per cent of their student cohort is from low-SES background—seven per cent!—and he is going to transform that by making sure those Commonwealth scholarships go to low-SES students.

Therefore, disadvantaged students will have more opportunities to go to university under our reforms than they would have under the Labor Party's proposals. In fact, do not just take my word for it. Margaret Gardner, the Vice-Chancellor of Monash University, wrote this week, 'When we look back on apparently golden ages of Australian higher education, let us all be clear that fewer disadvantaged students got into higher education in those days, when it was free, than they do today.'

There is another piece of excellent writing. Our great friend, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, has exploded the great canard that is being proposed by the Labor Party about disadvantaged students. He writes in 'Recapturing the nation-building zeal', 'There is no reason to think that deregulated student fees will adversely affect poorer students.'

A government member: Can we hear that again?

He wrote, 'There is no reason to think that deregulated student fees will adversely affect poorer students.' Is that the Labor Party's position? As usual, he is right and you are wrong.