Under New PM Turnbull, Australia Tweaks Higher Ed Approach


Australia’s government under Malcolm Turnbull is no longer planning to allow universities to set their own fees starting next year.

The bill would have deregulated university fees and cut funding for courses by 20%. Fees will remain the same until 2017 at the earliest, which is after the next election.

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham announced that he will not be reintroducing the higher education bill into Parliament for another vote, though he believes that the education system still needs reform. He doesn’t plan on dropping the issue. Matthew Knott of the Sydney Morning Herald quoted his statement at an education summit at the University of Melbourne:

With only three months left in 2015, it is necessary to give both universities and students certainty about what the higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will be. Therefore, today I am announcing that higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will not be changed from currently legislated arrangements, while the government consults further on reforms for the future. Any reforms, should they be legislated, would not commence until 2017 at the earliest.

Birmingham believes that the former Labor government’s choice to uncap the numbers of undergraduates has not been met with adequate funding, and that those at private colleges should not have to pay expensive loan fees.

According to the BBC News, the former Education and Training Minister Christopher Pyne had promised that the bill would be reintroduced after its two rejections during his term, in March and December.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was replaced by Turnbull weeks ago, said:

I’m a little disappointed by it and, frankly, I am disappointed that the people who call for reform did not get behind the 2014 budget.

Opposition came from Labor, the Green Party and crossbenchers, who had not hinted that they would be changing their minds on future versions of the legislation. Labor is pushing for a policy that increases public funding for universities and encourages degree completion, reports Daniel Hurst of the Guardian. Labor’s higher education spokesman Kim Carr noted that May’s budget will need to be updated since it assumed the higher education cuts would be passed.

Green senator Robert Simms said:

Australians have well and truly rejected the government’s vision for a US-style university system that prioritizes wealth and privilege over access and opportunity.

Birmingham was educated in government schools in low-income areas, and his parents never attended university. He said:

To those who claim consideration of reform is about ideology or privilege, you are dead wrong.

Chief Executive of Universities Belinda Robinson said that in meetings with Birmingham, he seemed to be genuinely interested in making sustainable funding possible for universities, writes Stephanie Anderson of ABC. Birmingham plans to consult a variety of stakeholders on the issue.