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VC calls on government to action third way of reform

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins warns that important decisions need to be made with some urgency about Higher Education reforms, and urges government to propose a ‘third way’ forward.

Professor Dawkins said there is a strong case for moving toward a third way in higher education reform that would see a more managed form of deregulation paired with a stronger equity package and oversight and review.

“The Federal Government’s initial package represents a radical move toward deregulation, with minimal safeguards against associated risks. At the other end of the spectrum would be a reversion to more regulation, where government places quotas on quantities of students that universities can enrol and maintains tight constraints on the prices they can charge,” Professor Dawkins said

“Neither of these represents the best way forward. Australia’s need for a strong tertiary education system should be a major national priority to ensure continuing growth in the skills and capabilities of the population. We need to find a way though this impasse, and that should be a ‘third way’ forward.”

Professor Dawkins said the risk of funding cuts without any offsetting fee increases is causing significant anxiety in the higher education sector.

“A range of economists and higher education experts, myself included, have pointed out significant risks with the current proposals but we recognise that there is a case for some further degree of deregulation in an environment where government budgets are severely constrained,”

“What is important is that if student contributions are increased, they should receive a suitably enhanced education—a good return on their investment.”

Professor Dawkins explained that for a revised package to have a chance of getting though the Senate, it now seems necessary to either build a review process into the package or establish an oversight body that can make recommendations about further amendments once the system is in place. He added that ideas could include the possibility of fee caps, loan caps or a system that sees universities that increase their prices above a threshold pay a ‘compensating levy’ on their government subsidy.

“For each dollar charged above the threshold, universities might forgo say thirty cents of government subsidy. The revenue from a scheme like this could be used to fund system-wide equity scholarships, improving equity of access.”  ENDS

Media contact: Julia Johnston: (03) 9919 4549, 0401 136 114, Julia.Johnston@vu.edu.au   

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