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Clinton gives lead to Sydney universities on free higher education

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 1 Aug 2016

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon has called on the Vice Chancellors of Sydney and UNSW universities, Michael Spence and Ian Jacobs, to break ranks with the Group of Eight and give strong backing to extra funding for public universities.

“At a time when the possible next US President, Hilary Clinton, is backing free education for working and middle class students in the United States, the best we hear from major universities like Sydney and UNSW is to crack down on numbers,” Senator Rhiannon said. 

Senator Rhiannon was responding to comments by Vicki Thomson, executive director of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities.

“The Group of Eight call to lower student numbers is another calculated, self-serving push by the nation’s elite universities to ensure they get a greater cut of the limited higher education budget. 

“Surely Ms Thomson knows that under the Coalition’s higher education policy the rate of growth in student enrolments will slow down compared with previous years. This detail was set out in the explanatory memorandum of the government’s higher education bill introduced into the last parliament.

“I strongly urge that the Vice Chancellors of Sydney and UNSW universities personally or by influence on the Group of Eight give leadership for the whole sector rather than just look after their own patch. 

“The starting point for the Group of Eight should be to push for all for-profit education providers to be excluded from the whole higher education sector – both universities and vocational education and training. 

“Public money for higher education should be prioritised for to public universities and public TAFE.

“If Ms Thomson wants to encourage a fair go for students she should work for a change in Go8 tactics that push governments to stop loading university and VET costs onto students with higher fees. 

“Go8 could take a lead from US Democrats who are running on a free higher education platform and the experience in Germany and other European and some Latin American countries that are already reaping the benefits of free higher education. 

“VCs Spence and Jacob are well positioned to show leadership. They should be on the front foot in rejecting a fully contestable market for the university sector. It would undermine the research and community service obligations of universities and undermine education standards,” Senator Rhiannon said. 

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