Posted 20/03/2015 by: Professor David Lloyd

Spoiler alert - (overly) very detailed political blog follows...

They say a week is a long time in politics and they're not wrong. We have seen decisions, revisions, reversals and new submissions in a flurry of higher education-related high stakes poker played out in Canberra during this past week. The climax, if one can use that word, the endgame if not, was the defeat of the government's proposed legislation to reform the higher education system in Australia on Wednesday evening, by 34-30 against the passage of the bill. 

What was interesting to me was that the variant of the bill was a significantly reformed reform bill in its own right. The Minister jettisoned (or decoupled, depending on your point of view) any cuts to Commonwealth funding from the bill - promising to support the previously threatened (but still endangered) NCRIS (National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy) funding - interesting, given the NCRIS funding was never actually part of the legislation.

The far more significant decoupling (and actually real, in the context of tabled legislation)  was that of the proposed 20% reduction to Commonwealth funding for education. This move largely positioned what remained in the bill as solely a proposal to deregulate the higher education system. Without linking it to budgetary imperatives. To allow universities to set their own fees for domestic students. 

This is what the senate rejected. 

So. What next?  Well, in the first instance, little has changed. We are still facing a real and well quantified funding shortfall as a sector. We are unsure as to what the coming budget will mean for higher education. We have not secured a means to offset these deficits. The fact remains that some combination of the Commonwealth (society) and the individual (student) will have to foot the bill for the cost of delivery of the individual's education. The issue as to deciding the appropriate quantum of the relative contributions has not been resolved. 

I have little doubt that the minister will revisit his proposals and bring another revised bill back for future consideration. In the meantime, the forthcoming Budget will no doubt provide some clarity for the future (although I note that deregulation unexpectedly first came into our consciousness in last year's budget). 

The sector and its various subgroups will continue to work with government and crossbenchers to drive for resolution of the heart of the matter. We have to provide the necessary means for a sustainable world class education system for Australia, which fully embraces equity and access for all those who can and should be supported to succeed in their learning in our universities.  

Closer to home, we will continue to get on with our core business. Our 2015 numbers are solid. Our curriculum innovation continues. Digital innovation in learning is coming to the fore. Our partnerships are solid and our students are ready to learn. Off we go.

Professor David Lloyd

Through The Big Picture, I hope that our whole community gains a greater and current appreciation of what is going on, how it fits together and how our activities connect and reinforce each other at a whole of enterprise level.


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