Education Minister Christopher Pyne will seek to introduce a new higher education reform package after the original proposal was rejected by the Senate last night.
The bill, which proposed deregulation of university tuition fees, applying real interest to HECS debts and extending federal funding to private institutions, was voted down 33-31. Mr Pyne said the new bill would include concessions demanded by Senate crossbenchers.
But National Union of Students Australia president Deanna Taylor told The Newsroom the reforms would be a devastating blow to higher education and young people’s access to higher education.
“If it were passed we would undoubtedly see student debt skyrocket and education become increasingly more unaffordable,” Ms Taylor said.
“That’s not a route Australia should be going down, an Americanised system like that, we should make higher education free and accessible to all. Minister Pyne clearly has no interest in that, and sectionally the senate doesn’t either and that’s why it was rejected last night.
“If the reform were to pass it would lead to disadvantaged students having very little access to higher education. We know that debt is a deterrent to people from disadvantaged backgrounds and that’s exactly what that bill would do, deter disadvantage students from going to university.”
Mr Pyne told a press conference this morning the reforms, which would mark the biggest changes to Australian higher education since the introduction of HECS in 1989, were “vitally important for the universities and the nation”.
“My view is that there is an understanding in the crossbench that there needs to be reform to the university sector,” Mr Pyne said.
The education minister is confident his bill will pass through the Senate when re-evaluated in the new year.
“I believe there will be a majority for this reform next year, we simply need to give the crossbench more time to think about the aspects of the reform.”
University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker is one of the few university representatives to speak out publicly against the reforms.
At this month’s National Alliance for Public Universities Forum at the University of Sydney, Vice-Chancellor Parker said the reforms were “unfair to students and poorly designed policy”.
“If they go through, Australia is sleepwalking towards the privatisation of its universities. And ironically they will be the death knell of our peak group, Universities Australia, which could not survive them for long,” he said.
“If the Government won’t take the honourable course of acknowledging these reforms are a gross violation of pre-election promises and put them before the electorate, then we must make sure that they lose that election because of them. And I believe they will, as the Victorian State Election on Saturday indicated.” – Lily Mayers
Top photo from Corey Oakley’s Flickr photostream.