Yesterday I met with the new Higher Education Minister Craig Emerson and presented a petition signed by 3,500 people in just two weeks asking him to stop the $2.3 billion budget cuts to universities to partly fund the Gonksi schools plan.
These cuts just don't add up. Making strong investment in public education, from early childhood to university, should be a government priority, when research shows that every public dollar invested in tertiary education grows the economy by $26 and increases tax revenues by $8. It makes good sense for our economy to have a well educated society.
I asked Minister Emerson why his government has imposed the so called 'efficiency dividends', which are really a $900 million budget cut, given they put further pressure on universities to find cost savings like cutting academic jobs, reducing face to face teaching time and course options, and increasing class sizes.
While we agreed on the need to increase participation in higher education and support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, I was disappointed that the Minister said the Labor government had to stick with the cuts.
I put to the Minister that these cuts will make it hardest for those new students who come from lower income households and regional communities, and urged that he take a bold stand and reverse these budget cuts next week, or risk altogether leaving Labor's education revolution in tatters. Every indication is that the news is not going to be good for higher education on budget night and that we will need to step up our campaigning.
I asked for more detail on how converting Student Start-up Scholarships of $2,050pa to student loans will increase student's HECS debts, as I understand it could be as much as $8,200 for the most disadvantaged students. I also asked for more details on the total impact of cuts per student in public funding to regional universities that will be hit hard by any further cuts. I will pursue this with the Minister.
The Coalition has supported Labor's $2.3 billion cuts. We talked about the threat of more cuts under an Abbott government and their plan to bring back full-fee paying domestic students. We did agree that we would meet again to discuss how conditions for university and TAFE students could be improved.
The Greens will continue to campaign to convince the government that the benefits of increased public investment in our universities far outweigh the cost.
Sign the petition today!