Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Reynolds for yet another informed policy question coming from senators on this side of the chamber in contrast to those opposite, who continue to just be interested in political game playing. I'm pleased to tell the Senate that, indeed, the Turnbull government's reforms to higher education are about providing a more student-centred approach in terms of higher education, providing students with more choice, more information and a more relevant experience. Our reform proposals include expansion of sub-bachelor places, associate degree opportunities and the chance to take more relevant, work-linked, industry-linked, shorter programs that are still—to differentiate them from VET—clearly articulated into other higher degree pathways; equally, allowing students to decide where they should take their postgraduate subsidies to ensure that, rather than old historical deals of postgraduate place allocations, we actually have a system where the most worthy students in the most appropriate disciplines choose the field in which they want to undertake their studies and the university that best fits them to do so.
Our reforms also expand for the very first time funding for work placements into university courses so that universities will have a direct incentive to help place their students in work-integrated learning environments to give them a more relevant work experience as part of their training. Overall, there are additional reforms in enhancing transparency of information around admissions and, indeed, measures to help hold universities accountable in the future for ongoing institutional improvements in student satisfaction, in teaching and graduate processes and in employment outcomes for their graduates—all of which are critical. And, yes, there are measures to ensure financial sustainability across the sector as well, a sector that has seen funding grow by 70 per cent since 2009 and which, under our reforms, will still see 23 per cent growth in funding over the next four years.
We have a wonderful high-performing university sector in Australia. Almost half of our universities are in the top 300 globally. They have collective surpluses of $1½ billion. They are indeed outstanding institutions that make an important contribution to our country. But they're also institutions, as I said before, that have seen enormous growth in taxpayer funding and support in recent years. Indeed, analysis shows that whilst they've seen per student growth in funding of around 15 per cent, the cost growth has only been around 9½ per cent. What we're asking universities to do as part of our reforms is to find some efficiencies, with a slightly slower trajectory of funding growth in the future—still some 23 per cent growth over the next four years, but a slightly slower trajectory of growth. Indeed, many, such as former vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz and former ANU professor Keith Houghton, have identified that there are real productivity opportunities in the university sector that can be deployed and can ensure they continue to succeed and excel within the budget framework. (Time expired)
When the Labor Party were exiting office, before the 2013 election, they recognised at that time that the reforms to university admissions and the opening up of the demand-driven system required paying for, and that it actually had to be funded by the taxpayer. At the time, the Labor Party proposed an efficiency dividend on universities, only, when they lost that election, to backflip in relation to that policy. It wasn't just the efficiency dividend that the Labor Party proposed; they proposed some $6 billion worth of cuts and savings across the university sector. Now, of course, we see the hypocrisy of the Labor Party, who say no to the Turnbull government's more modest reforms and measures than they proposed. We all know that the best thing to do with Labor is to have a look at what they did and what they do—not at what they say or what they claim, because Mr Shorten's words certainly cannot be trusted. We know that, were they to win, the cuts would be back and the hypocrisy would be exposed. (Time expired)