Education landscape tipped to change for ever as universities free to charge at will

Federal budget 2014: full coverage
Nanjing Night Net

The vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra has predicted a dramatic change to Canberra’s education landscape – and to education nationally – after the federal budget.

Universities will be able to charge whatever they like, new higher education providers such as TAFEs, colleges and private providers will be allowed in the market, and all students studying diplomas and associate degrees will be eligible for Higher Education Contribution Scheme loans.

But Professor Stephen Parker said the changes were a winding back of social democracy in Australia that would lead to a user-pays, Americanised, competitive liberal state.

On the other hand, Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young welcomed the changes, which will allow the ANU to charge a premium for its degree places.

The changes, which will save the Commonwealth $1.1 billion over three years, represent a double whammy for students, who will likely pay more for their degrees but will also be forced to cover a 20 per cent reduction in Commonwealth contributions for course costs, also announced in the budget.

The government will require higher education providers to direct $1 of every $5 of additional revenue they raise to Commonwealth scholarships for disadvantaged students.

Professor Parker said urban universities would raise their fees considerably, but it was uncertain how regional institutions would operate in the free market.

The budget represented an opportunity for the UC to refocus itself on the sub-degree market as it planned to in its Polytechnic model in 2010 before the then Labor government capped sub-degree places.

”The extension of HECS places to the sub-degree market will enable us to put on a new range of diplomas and associate degrees and provide support for students if they are not ready for a degree course. I speculate as to what this would mean for other providers in Canberra,” Professor Parker said, in reference to the UC potentially moving in on the market dominated by the Canberra Institute of Technology.

”I don’t want to disturb the equilibrium that exists in Canberra but it is inevitable that the higher education landscape in Canberra will change fundamentally.”

Professor Young, meanwhile, hailed the budget as a win for the ANU and for Australian research.

”I strongly believe that the reforms announced tonight will see a greater diversity of educational offerings and experiences at universities across the nation, giving students more opportunity to do what suits them.”

He welcomed the Commonwealth scholarship requirement.

”We will be looking at our scholarship offerings to ensure that we address what has long been one of the biggest challenges for students coming to study in Canberra – accommodation and living expenses.

”The changes do mean that students make a greater contribution to the cost of their education, putting greater onus on universities to offer the highest quality education and demonstrate the value of that education,” Professor Young said.

But Professor Parker said the pendulum had swung too far and future Australians would regret the fundamental changes unveiled in the budget.

”This changes the face of higher education in Australia for ever and I believe the country will regret it in due course,” he said.

”Certainly this is the worst possible outcome for tomorrow’s students, with anyone who applies to university from tomorrow having to pay for these changes from 2016.”

The old system will still apply to current students and those who have deferred.

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