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Private Colleges See Level Playing Field as Top Priority - Finn

Simon Finn, COPHE CEO - Profile by John Ross - as published in The Australian, March 1, 2017.

As the federal government shapes the higher education ­landscape in the wake of 2014’s failed reforms, a lingering question is whether it will pursue a plan to fund private college under­graduates. But for the new boss of the private college peak body, the bigger question is whether the government will discard the 25 per cent loan fee extracted from their students.

Simon Finn, the chief executive of the Council of Private Higher Education, says that although some private providers are keen to offer government-subsidised degrees, others “don’t see that as a priority”.

“The key policy issue for us is about creating that level playing field, so students can make a decision based entirely on the quality of courses rather than that differential cost.”

Finn comes into the job with experience in both higher education and government, having launched his career in student service delivery at Victoria and James Cook universities.

He detoured into Queensland politics, serving as parliamentary secretary for industrial relations under former Labor premier Anna Bligh, and later minister for government services, the building industry and information communications technology.

After losing his southern Brisbane seat in the 2012 landslide to Campbell Newman, Finn returned to higher education as chief executive of Chifley Business School (since acquired by Torrens University) and now COPHE. He joins former Victorian deputy Liberal leader Phil Honeywood, who heads the International Education Association of Australia, as an erstwhile state politician leading a tertiary education peak body.

“Politics gives you a really good background in a representative role,” Finn says. “It helps you work with a diverse range of people and distill complex information into a way forward.”

He divides his time between COPHE’s Sydney office and his small farm at Ballan, between Ballarat and Melbourne. “I have a few sheep, a few chooks and a couple of cows.”

Later this year he plans to open an office in Melbourne, putting COPHE in closer proximity to the higher education regulator. Last week Finn took the unusual step of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, articulating a clear contact point and an agreement to share information.

He says it will circumvent problems and fast-track communications between the two agencies. “We’ll be able to give direct feedback to TEQSA on policy and application of the standards, without having to be in a formal meeting arrangement.”

Finn says he is not aware of any private college concerns around new standards requiring institutions to be more transparent about their admissions procedures. “When you’re a private provider and you’re directly connected with the market, your mission is to be transparent,” he says. “That’s what our members want to do.” 

Copyright © 2017 The Australian

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