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COPHE Continues to Call for Higher Education Reforms

Dear Colleagues,

Despite the disappointing defeat of the HE reform legislation in the Senate on Tuesday night, it is not all over.

The indefatigable Minister Pyne has indicated that revised Bills will be introduced in the Autumn session – that’s about 12 weeks away and is after the Budget (12 May).

The fair treatment of our students was core in the legislative agenda, but has been overshadowed in the media commentary by reactions from public universities.

We have engaged with cross bench Senators. The majority recognise the need for change in higher education policy and all support fair treatment of our students and addressing the inequity in the current system. The Senators are much more up to speed on higher education than they were last May, but believe how the government has gone about it is flawed. The process could no doubt have been better, but 20/20 hindsight is easy.

Deregulation of fees for undergraduates at public universities was always going to be a challenge. Deregulating fees and reducing subsidies in the same legislation was the wrong approach, but that had been resolved.

We have found Senators to be dismissive of the ALP who still do not have any answer on what they would do.  Labor luminaries have actually been coming out calling for acceptance of the reforms.

The independent and minor party Senators that make up the cross benches do have continuing concerns about universities charging excessive fees to cross-subsidise activity that is unrelated to teaching. In recent times funding approaches that would mitigate this have emerged and need to be considered in the new legislation.

The HECS system was well designed and is the fairest system in the world, but is generally taken for granted by students. It shouldn't be.

Well of course it is not over yet – the need for reform is not going to disappear. Equity, choice and diversity are still valid goals. We will continue to remind anyone who will listen that this is all about students, not institutions.

Adrian McComb, CEO COPHE 

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