Australia has a strong higher education sector with an
international reputation for excellence. We are deservedly proud of being a
creative, capable and highly educated nation. However, there is no room for
complacency. The international economy and employment markets are evolving, and
we need to stay competitive. The government's vision is for a higher education
system which prepares Australians for the jobs of the future and promotes
excellence in research. As put by the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for
Education, Australia faces a stark choice:
...either we spread access to higher education to more
Australians and keep our country competitive with others in our region, or we
support a higher education system that is unsustainable, that will decline into
mediocrity, and eventually be left behind.
The reform package before the Senate is about more than just
driving economic growth or boosting productivity. These reforms are primarily
about enhancing individual and community wellbeing, expanding choice for
students and allowing higher education providers the freedom to build
innovative, creative—and above all sustainable—business models. They are about
increasing access for regional students, students from low SES backgrounds,
Indigenous and mature age students, ensuring that everyone has the same
opportunity to reach their potential.
Sustainability has been of grave concern to the sector for some
time, as evidenced by vice chancellors, academics and students. Successive
governments have, for various reasons, been unwilling or unable to maintain the
levels of funding required for the sector to flourish. These reforms are
crucial for our higher education institutions, but are not just about raising
fees, as critics have rather simplistically inferred. While this government
believes the higher education system must be fair and equitable for all
Australians, it does not share the naïve view that funding can just be sourced
from a bottomless public purse. Students themselves, who enjoy a lifetime of
benefits from the higher education they receive, must make a fair contribution.
But thanks to the HELP system of deferred payment on student loans, no one will
be asked to pay for their education until they are making a decent living.
The model being proposed is unique in the world for its
innovation and fairness, and must be seen for what it is: a much-needed,
socially progressive overhaul of an unsustainable system.
...this is socially progressive policy.
The committee has diligently examined all aspects of this bill,
including the concerns raised during the course of this inquiry. The committee
is of the view that these reforms will promote excellence in education and
research, and ensure a sustainable future for the sector, one that is, as put
by Professor Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University,
'equitable for students, graduates and the taxpayer'.
The HELP system and Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme provide a
socially-progressive funding approach which will expand access to higher education
and create pathways for anyone who wishes to study, regardless of their
background. People who might never have contemplated higher education before
will now have a range of options to choose from, and a system of support in
place to help them along the way.
This package of reforms follows extensive consultation with the
sector. The committee also consulted widely in its deliberations, taking on
board many suggestions on how the bill could be improved. As a result, the
committee has made a number of recommendations to enhance the proposed reforms.
These are set out throughout this report. The committee urges the Senate and
the government to take its recommendations on board, and to allow the passage
of this legislation.
Senator Bridget McKenzie
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