During a visit to Newcastle University today, Australian Greens Senator and higher education spokesperson Lee Rhiannon met with staff and students to discuss the impact of the Coalition's plan to meet the higher education funding shortfall by charging students more and capping university places, especially in regional communities such as the Hunter.
"The Coalition's policy to shift university costs onto students will create a barrier to participation in higher education, driving down equity in our universities," said Senator Rhiannon.
"We know that an Abbott government plans to increase student fees, cap university places and reintroduce full fee paying places, which is especially bad news for low income and rural and regional students.
"Though the Coalition has not released its policy platform, it has signalled a big HECS fee increase which will further affect the ability of rural and regional students to access a university education.
"Many rural and regional students need to relocate in order to attend university. They already face increased cost of living pressures, and a big increase to HECS fees would make it even harder for them to attend university.
"Large hikes in tuition fees last year in the UK last year led to an 8.7% drop in the number of university applications, according to the admissions service.
"Labor should rule out any support for increasing student fees, and instead commit to increasing per student base funding.
"The Greens are campaigning for a 10 per cent increase to base funding per student at public universities as recommended by the Bradley Review.
"Australia does need a debate about the future of higher education but it needs to be in the context of how we achieve equitable access to affordable or free education for all domestic students, supported by appropriate living allowances and minimising student debt.
"The gap between the rising cost of delivering a quality higher education and public funding keeps growing, but pushing these costs onto students is not the answer to increasing participation and building a competitive workforce in the global economy.
"The value of per student base funding has not increased in real terms since 1994, despite the level of base funding being substantially higher, because those increases have been directed at growth and not resourcing per student places. At the same time student fees have steadily increased.
"The Greens will visit university campuses in coming months to campaign for increased public university funding and to rule out HECS fee increases," Senator Rhiannon said.