CQU turns on Government's higher education reforms
CQUNIVERSITY has backed away from its support for the Federal Government's controversial higher education reforms, calling them "detrimental to our communities" and saying they would adversely impact the services provided to Gladstone students.
The reforms, announced in this year's budget, are designed to save the Federal Government $2.8 billion over the next four years by gradually increasing student fees and imposing a 2.5% efficiency dividend on university funding.
Universities will also lose a $3271 loading for each student enrolled in pre-degree enabling courses.
Instead they will be given the ability to charge enrolled students the same amount to be covered by HECS/HELP.
CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman was cautiously supportive of the changes the day after the budget was released, telling a Cairns newspaper the cuts seemed "quite fair" in the context of the wider budget.
But since then he has soured on the changes, telling The Observer there was "a lot in there not to like" for tertiary institutions.
"When I made those comments (in May) I thought everything was about trying to repair the budget, and every part of the economy would be taking a share of the hit," Professor Bowman said.
"But then it came out it was mainly the universities that were getting hit hard - organisations that are going to be building the future workforce of Australia."
Prof Bowman said he was particularly disappointed with the removal of loading for enabling courses.
"These programs help people to discover their potential and realise success at university," he said.
"Removing funding for these programs will likely discourage people from enrolling as they will be accumulating a debt before they even commence a bachelor's degree.
"These students are not like our degree students who might be studying to become a radiographer or an engineer... they're studying to be able to start a degree.
"Often there's people taking those courses who are long-term unemployed.
"There's great benefit to Australia in getting those people into university and into productive work."
Prof Bowman said the efficiency dividend - paired with the possibility of further cuts if performance criteria set by the Minister were not met - would mean CQUniversity would have to look at reducing the services it provided to students, especially on rural and regional campuses.
"We're looking to invest in Gladstone at the moment with the new trades training centre and research initiatives... but (if the cuts go ahead) we're not going to be able to provide the same level of support services for students," he said.
"(The future of) some of our smaller sites would definitely be in question."
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said growth in student numbers and high real per student funding meant universities should be able to use economies of scale to meet "a modest slowing in the rate of growth of taxpayer funding".
"While universities enjoy... autonomy, taxpayers also expect their investment is being used as efficiently as possible," he said.
"There's no upfront cost for enabling courses and those students will be treated exactly the same as their peers doing other courses at university where the student loan program applies."