Government still wants to increase students’ contribution to university funding

In a speech to a Universities Australia dinner, Education Minister Simon Birmingham stressed that he would not rush into a new higher education policy. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has flagged that the government is still committed to reconsidering the balance between what students and government pay for higher education.

In a speech to a Universities Australia dinner, Birmingham said the government continued to believe reform of the sector was needed - to support innovation, promote equity, and protect quality. “And yes, reform is necessary to support federal budget sustainability.”

But – after the government’s earlier failure to implement its radical fee deregulation plan – Birmingham told his audience: “I am determined the process I undertake will be neither rushed nor involve surprises.”

The government’s 2014 proposal would have moved the student-government ratio in university funding from 40:60 to a 50:50 split. The plan was announced in the budget and came as a surprise. It had to be abandoned when it was clear it would never pass the Senate.

Birmingham, who replaced former education minister Christopher Pyne, has been consulting extensively but has not yet announced any specific policy. “I want to ensure that the next time we seek support of the Senate for a package of reforms they are not only generally supported among vice-chancellors, but that the reasons for reform are well appreciated, the vision well enunciated and the implications well understood.”

He said that in addition to promoting innovation and equity “our tertiary education system must be affordable. If we are to press for further expansion of the system, in either sub-bachelor or post graduate, that has to be paid for.

"We do need to reconsider the balance between public and private contributions, versus public and private benefits. People who participate in higher education still enjoy a significant wage premium over those who don’t. Those with a bachelor degree are likely to earn 75% more over their lifetime than someone without one.”

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