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Australian Universities plead for deregulation

English.news.cn   2014-08-28 10:48:13

SYDNEY, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- The peak body representing Australia's Universities (UA) is now calling on the Australian Parliament to support the deregulation of Australian universities to assure affordability for students and taxpayers, while calling for certain modifications to the education reform package.

UA's CEO Belinda Robinson said that the Parliament had a 'once- in-a-generation opportunity' to shape a sustainable, affordable and equitable approach to higher learning by fully deregulating higher education.

"With budgets under pressure... full deregulation of higher education is needed," Robinson said from Canberra.

The government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears set to push ahead and introduce its plans for changes to higher education, according to which, universities will be hit with a 20 percent cut in federal funding, but in return can set their own fees.

According to Robinson, inadequate investment and further cuts without deregulation will "condemn Australia's great university system to inevitable decline."

But in calling for cross-bench Senators to support the sector's consensus position in favor of deregulation, Ms Robinson said that changes to the package were needed to assure affordability for both students and taxpayers.

The reform proposal faced criticism of the plans to charge interest paid on commonwealth loans at the government bond rate, capped at 6 percent a year, rather than CPI.

The students argue that fees and interest rates on loans will increase. Fees at universities in Australia are among the highest in the world, with international students charged much more than locals.

"Under the current student loans scheme, fees are deferred until students graduate and earn over 53,000 dollars per annum and interest is calculated at CPI. Universities Australia urges the Senate to maintain the CPI interest rate so no one with the ability to attend university is saddled with a large debt."

"Similarly we call on the Senate to moderate the size of the proposed 20 percent cut in the Government contribution to tuition fees so as to reduce upward price pressure on fees."

Fairfax Media reports that the Abbott government has a plan B should the Senate blocks the university package.

The government plans to save 3.2 billion Australian dollars over four years by pegging student debts to the government bond rate and lowering the HECS repayment threshold. The cuts to course funding would save an estimated 1.1 billion Australian dollars over three years.

While these changes require legislative approval, cuts to research block grants, training schemes and other measures can be passed in appropriations bills which typically sail through Parliament unopposed.

The government has identified cuts to research funding as a potential bargaining chip as Senate negotiations deepen over coming months.

The government's Finance Spokesman Senator Mathias Cormann said before parliament resumes, that if the proposition of Labor party, the Greens and the various 'balance of power' senators in the Palmer United Party (PUP) were to oppose the 2014 budget spending cuts, such as the university funding changes, then 'the only alternative to balance the books is to increase taxes.'

UA, however, is calling on the Parliament to remove the ongoing uncertainty for students, universities and the broader community, by moving swiftly to approve the reforms with changes proposed by Universities Australia.

Group of Eight Universities chair Ian Young said slashing research was a "doomsday scenario" for universities.

"It would be disastrous... decimating research in this country.

Young added that, "it would put at risk our international market because world rankings are built on research."

"Research grants support our research infrastructure, our IT systems, laboratory technicians, PHD programs. This measure would hit research-intensive universities hard, rather than being spread across the entire sector."

Embattled Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has declined to comment.

Editor: An
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