Adelaide Advertiser, 18 Mar 2015
By Peter Jean
EDUCATION Minister Christopher Pyne says he will try again to deregulate university fees after his controversial university reforms were rejected by the Senate last night.
Senators voted 34 votes to 30 against the government’s plan to remove caps on the fees universities charge students.
Mr Pyne indicated that the fee deregulation Bill would be reintroduced later this year, potentially creating a trigger for a double-dissolution election if it is rejected again.
Under the reforms, eligible students could still have deferred paying fees through the taxpayer-funded HELP loan scheme.
Last-minute concessions, including unlinking a 20 per cent cut to university funding from the package, failed to win over a majority of non-government senators.
Mr Pyne last night said the changes were essential to ensure the future viability of the higher education sector.
“We will not give up. This reform is too important,” he said. “We will continue to work with senators and others who wish to be part of a constructive discussion.” The reforms had been broadly supported by all but one of the nation’s 41 university vice-chancellors.
South Australian Family First Senator Bob Day voted with the government.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm had expressed reservations about the Bill, but agreed to support it after meeting Mr Pyne yesterday.
Victorian independent John Madigan voted with the government at the Bill’s “second reading” stage so that amendments could be considered.
Some non-government senators yesterday criticised Mr Pyne’s negotiating tactics, with South Australian independent Nick Xenophon describing the Education Minister as “more flexible than a yoga instructor”.
Senator Xenophon said he could not support fee deregulation.
“Throughout the OECD, no other country is proposing to do what Australia has done with the complete deregulation of the sector,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called for a new national conversation about the higher education system.
“It is time for a real conversation with parents, with students, with employers, with universities and researchers about a sustainable education,” Mr Shorten said.
“But the conversation must always have this at its core we view higher education not as a private benefit but as a public benefit.” The chair of the elite Group of Eight universities, Professor Ian Young, last night warned that the defeat of reform could lead to a slow decline in the quality of university education.
“You end up with larger classes, you end up using more session or part-time staff to teach those classes,” he said.
“Small enrolment programs will also be dropped.” PAGE 21: BALANCING THE BOOKS
Source: Adelaide Advertiser