Thursday, 18 February 2021
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020; In Committee
I'd like to ask the minister, before we conclude this debate, whether the government thinks that universities can meet the research thresholds that it has set out in these standards, given that universities were denied JobKeeper and have been impacted by the loss of international students—you've all but abandoned universities during the pandemic. What assessment has the government made and what inquiries has the government made about the impact on research thresholds and the assessment of that research under this legislation?
I'm advised that universities are still reporting a surplus with regard to their operations, and these reforms will have minimal impact on these settings. On that basis, we're confident that things will not be impacted in any negative way.
Minister, I note 17,000 people who worked within Australia's universities have lost their jobs and departed the sector in the last little while. Universities may have money put aside for other contingencies. They use their surpluses to enrol extra students. That doesn't mean you've actually assessed which universities have been impacted by the loss of staff that they haven't been able to maintain and how that impacts on their research outputs and the quality of those research outputs. To be fair, what you said to me just now—that universities have a surplus, so it's their problem if their research is affected—is absolute nonsense.
I don't think we're going to get anywhere with the government here. They've sent in numerous ministers who aren't across the legislation. I appreciate that they've been here so that we can scrutinise these issues.
We've seen thousands of people lose their jobs from the university sector. They've been unable to account for the impact of the loss of those jobs on research and whether the assessment tools contained in this legislation will find what the impact of the loss of those jobs is on the quality of research, which TEQSA is supposed to investigate, as a result of the COVID pandemic. We know that this is an ideological war by the government against Australia's universities in terms of funding cuts and allowing the private sector to take up more of the field by allowing private players to call themselves university colleges. Sadly, given the government has been so unforthcoming, I don't see any reason to keep this debate going.
The CHAIR: The question is that Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1130 be agreed to.