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Budget package undermines its own ideals: private colleges

By John Ross. As published in The Australian, May 10, 2017.

Private colleges lobbied for a last-minute budget reprieve on student loans, saying the higher education changes entrenched “structural unfairness”.

In a letter to Scott Morrison, Council of Private Higher Education chief executive Simon Finn said the present arrangements — which saddled private students with a 25 per cent loan fee — forced people to pay extra for courses with the highest satisfaction ratings. This penalised col­leges that provided good service, undermining the basic precept of compet­ition. Mr Finn said it was not too late to wrap student loans into a single scheme.

“We understand that the proposal has been modelled,” he said. “This budget looms as an opportunity to address inequity and remove impediments to choice.”

While COPHE had pressed for the loan fee to be abolished, commentators had speculated that the government would extend the fee to public university students, which would have levelled the playing field.

Instead the reforms have widened the gap, because the loan fee now will be levied on higher fees. Meanwhile, although the government has resuscitated the 2014 proposal to extend uncapped commonwealth-supported places to sub-bachelor programs, it has ignored a twin plan — also outlined in 2014 — to allow private providers to deliver CSPs.

This is a double whammy for TAFEs, which — for funding purposes — are categorised as private providers. While TAFEs have been blocked from offering subsidised degrees, universities have been given carte blanche to offer subsidised diplomas.

Citing Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching data, Mr Finn said private colleges had received the top 18 ratings for teaching quality and the top 16 for overall educational experience. He said maintaining the loan fee was illogical, given the move to make 7.5 per cent of universities’ teaching funds contingent on quality.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s education and training director, Jenny Lambert, said private providers had “a lot of cause for concern”.

“It’s important to maintain providers that meet needs,” she said. “Smaller niche institutions can do that in a different way.”

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