Universities warn of funding crisis after Senate rejects fee deregulation

The senate rejected the Government’s university education reforms for a second time. Photo: Getty Images.

The tertiary sector’s peak body, Universities Australia, has warned they face a funding crisis after the Senate refused to pass the government’s fee deregulation legislation last night.

Christopher Pyne’s Higher Education and Research Reform Bill was rejected for a second time last night, when the several crossbench senators combined with Labor and the Greens defeat the bill 34-30.

Only Family First’s Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and independent John Madigan stood with the Government, despite a majority of senators arguing that the funding model does need change to deal with years of chronic underfunding.

The sticking point is fee deregulation. South Australian senator Nick Xenophon argued that it was not “necessarily the best option in solving this problem”.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he will work with the senate to try and find a way pass the bill and present it for a third time.

“Few dispute that without reform, Australia’s higher education system will steadily decline,” Pyne said.

Universities Australia CEO Belinda Robinson said there needed to be a national discussion about a “a long-term, sustainable and predictable funding model for university education and research”.

Robinson said the defeat of the reforms was disappointing, and did nothing to address historic underinvestment in the sector.

The Government is hoping to save billions of dollars in taxpayer funding by uncapping the price universities can charge for a degree, with some predicting that the cost of courses will rise by around a third of the current fees.

“The almost year-long debate has achieved a remarkable political consensus on one critical factor – that the current state of public investment in universities is insufficient for maintaining and enhancing the quality expected by students, employers and the community,” Robinson said.

“We cannot continue to kick this can down the road.”

She rejected the suggestion that higher education funding should be an election issue.

“Our universities, and the hopes and aspirations of our children, can no longer afford to be treated as a convenient political football,” she said.

“With global competition intensifying, Australia can’t afford to be left behind. Unfortunately, if our universities continue to be sidelined, this is the reality we confront.”.

She warned that bigger class sizes and staffing reductions would occur if university reform does not occur.

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