Tertiary education

Budget Resources

Carol Ey and Shannon Clark

Unless otherwise indicated, all page numbers refer to Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2023–24.

Higher education

There are limited measures in the Education portfolio relating to higher education in this Budget, as the sector is currently being reviewed (see below). However, there are a number of measures in other areas, such as the Defence and Health portfolios, which are relevant to the sector.

Budget initiatives

The most significant new higher education funding in this Budget is $127.3 million over 4 years from 2023–24 for 4,000 additional commencing Commonwealth supported places at universities for courses supporting the skills requirements of the nuclear-powered submarine program, including in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and in management (p. 94). At least 800 of these places will be allocated to South Australian universities, with the remainder allocated through a competitive process. For further detail, see Budget review 2023–24 article ‘Nuclear’.

In addition, there is increased funding for some higher education student support programs including:

This measure will be funded through savings within the Education portfolio (p. 101).

There are also several measures in the Health portfolio to improve the training of health professionals, including:

  • $91.3 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for additional psychology placements, including 500 psychology post-graduate placements (p. 139)
  • $17.8 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to improve the mental health capabilities of the broader health care workforce including through the review of undergraduate curricula for nursing, midwifery and allied health to ensure students are receiving contemporary training in mental health (p. 139)
  • $50.2 million over 4 years from 2023–24 to establish a scholarship program to support registered nurses and midwives to undertake post-graduate study (p. 149)
  • $31.6 million over 2 years from 2023–24 to trial enhanced training arrangements to support international medical students working in rural and remote locations (p. 150)
  • $10.7 million over 4 years to create 6,000 primary care clinical placements for nurses (p. 150)
  • $4.2 million over 2 years from 2022–23 to support James Cook University to deliver the Australian General Practice Training program (p. 150).

Three higher education programs are ceasing under the ‘Education – reprioritisation’ measure, resulting in savings of $39.9 million over 5 years from 2022–23, and $2.7 million ongoing (p. 100). These are:

  • the Strategic University Reform Fund, which was funded over 4 years from 2020–21 to ‘encourage universities to undertake novel reform in areas of Government priority and enable universities to develop targeted and innovative solutions that are focused on local communities’
  • the Regional Research Collaboration Program, which provides funding to support research collaboration in regional institutions
  • the Quality Initiatives Program, which funds the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute for programs such as summer schools to promote the study of mathematics.

The university sector has generally welcomed the budget initiatives, including the increase in student allowance payments (see Budget review 2023–24 article ‘Social security cost of living measures for further detail), while raising concerns about the lack of increased support for research (see, for example, responses from Universities Australia and the Group of Eight).

Australian Universities Accord

While there are limited measures in the higher education sector in this Budget, further changes are expected in future as the Government is developing an Australian Universities Accord through a 12‑month review of Australia’s higher education system.

In July 2022, Minister for Education Jason Clare flagged the accord would be ‘an opportunity to build a long-term plan for our universities’. It would have a wide scope:

Looking at everything from funding and access, to affordability, transparency, regulation, employment conditions and also how universities and TAFEs and other higher education and vocational education providers and training institutions work together.

Minister Clare announced the accord’s Expert Panel and terms of reference in November 2022. A discussion paper was released in February 2023, with submissions closing on 11 April 2023. The panel is due to provide an interim report to the Government in June 2023 with the final report due in December 2023.

Vocational education and training

There are limited new measures in the VET sector in this Budget. While the Treasurer noted in his budget speech that the Government is creating 300,000 fee-free TAFE places, this measure was initially announced as part of the October 2022–23 Budget (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: October 2022–23, p. 104).

The sector is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories. A new National Skills Agreement is being developed to replace the former National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, which outlines the responsibilities of governments. This Budget includes $5.5 million to continue supporting the negotiation of the new agreement, and pending the outcomes of these negotiations, $3.7 billion has been retained in the Contingency Reserve for a 5-year agreement expected to commence on 1 January 2024 (p. 107).

The Foundation Skills for Your Future Program, which provides language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills training, is to be redesigned, expanding eligibility to those who are not registered job seekers, and including a specific focus on First Nations people (p. 107). As part of this process, funding for current pilot projects in remote communities will be extended by 12 months, to align with the commencement of the redesigned program. Funding for this measure is to be met through existing resources.

A new model of non-financial support for apprentices is to be introduced from 1 July 2024, at a cost of $54.3 million over 5 years from 2022–23 (p. 109). The new model will redesign and refocus existing support services delivered by the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network to increase completion rates and the diversity of the apprentice workforce. In addition, grant funding of $5.0 million over 3 years from 2024–25 will be provided to further support women in historically male dominated trade apprenticeships. The cost of this measure will be offset by savings resulting from transferring processing of wage subsidy claims from Services Australia to the Department of Employment and Workforce Relations (DEWR).

The Government will also provide $8.6 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $1.5 million ongoing) to ensure 1 in 10 workers on major Australian Government-funded projects is an apprentice, trainee or paid cadet (p. 104).

Two programs in the VET field have had funding reduced as part of the reprioritisation of projects (p. 106):

  • $20.0 million over 4 years from 2023–24 will be saved by temporarily reducing uncommitted funding for the Jobs and Skills Councils, which are being developed to replace the former industry engagement arrangements for VET
  • a saving of $10.4 million over 2 years from 2022–23 by not proceeding with the Accelerating Australian Apprenticeships Pilot program, which was initially announced in the 2021–22 Mid-year economic and fiscal update (p. 226).

There does not appear to have been any response from the sector to these measures, possibly reflecting the relatively minor changes proposed.

Student loans

The other major initiative in the tertiary sector, at $87.8 million over 5 years (spread across several agencies), is to improve the administration of student loans, including enhancing the security and privacy of data holdings (p. 87). This includes:

  • $42.2 million over 4 years for DEWR to implement a new digital system to support the VET Student Loans program
  • $36.9 million over 5 years (and $2.0 million per year ongoing) for the Department of Education to improve the data quality, analytic support and security of records in the Tertiary Collection of Student Information system
  • $8.7 million over 2 years for the Commonwealth Ombudsman and DEWR to extend the VET FEE-HELP student redress measures to 31 December 2023.


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