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In the media: Pyne to revive university reforms at winter sitting

The Australian, 18 March 2015
By Sarah Martin & Rosie Lewis

THE government will reintroduce laws to “liberate” universities in the winter sitting of parliament, after the Senate again torpedoed its reform plans last night.

The Australian understands the Coalition wants to reintroduce the reform bill in July, creating a double-dissolution trigger if it is defeated a second time.

Pledging to push ahead with the “vital” reform, Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he would continue to work with the crossbench to deregulate the tertiary sector.

“We will continue to work with senators and others who wish to be part of a constructive discussion,” Mr Pyne said after the government lost the vote 34-30.

Palmer United senator Zhenya Wang and independents Glenn Lazarus, Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon and Ricky Muir joined Labor and the Greens to block the higher education reform bill.

Senators David Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Bob Day voted with the government.

Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said the Senate’s refusal to pass the funding package would have “long-lasting repercussions for students, and the Australian economy”.

“It has been sad and depressing to see a legislative package so crucial to our nation’s future become a political football,” she said.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson urged the Senate not to give up on reform, saying crossbenchers had accepted “there does need to be a solution found”.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young said he was pleased the government would persist with reform, as some form of deregulation was “still the only workable option”.

“We would call on politicians of all persuasions to engage with this process,” Professor Young said.

Last-ditch attempts by Mr Pyne, including a move to split the bill to defer voting on a 20 per cent cut to course subsidies and pleas from the university sector to give it a funding lifeline, failed to win the six crossbench votes needed.

“We will … bring back the higher education reform package for the parliament to consider. We will not give up. This reform is too important,” Mr Pyne said.

He urged Labor to “engage seriously” on reforms, which he said the opposition knew were needed.

Labor’s higher education spokesman Kim Carr said the loss was a “humiliating failure” for the government. “Labor will continue to fight the Americanisation of our university system, and we will prevail,” Senator Carr said.

The reforms would have uncapped university fees, indexed student loans to the CPI and established a scholarship fund for low socio-economic students.

Nobel prize-winning astronomer Brian Schmidt backed fee deregulation as an “incredibly important reform”, warning that the university funding system was “close to broken” and failing to provide high-end training.

“It’s certainly not serving either the students or the universities very well,” he told ABC radio.

The government is hopeful of convincing senators to support fee deregulation if the reform bill includes new amendments to discourage excessive fee increases and curb student debt. This will centre on proposals advocated by economist Bruce Chapman, the architect of the HECS student loan system, and Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins.

In a letter from Mr Pyne to Senator Leyonhjelm, obtained by The Australian, the government said it hoped to have a new proposal for discussion by July.

“I propose that we continue to work together in the coming months to develop an option that would constrain the level of HECS debt that is not repaid,” Mr Pyne said in the letter.

EDITORIAL P15

Source: The Australian

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