Education Minister Simon Birmingham has confirmed the Turnbull Government will be shelving the controversial university deregulation plan in this term of government.
Senator Birmingham said the legislation, taken to Parliament by the former Education Minister Christopher Pyne, would not be reintroduced for a vote before the next election.
The legislation would have allowed universities to set their own fees, sparking concerns that some courses could cost in excess of $100,000 in the future.
In a speech delivered to the Times Higher Education Conference on Thursday, he said the legislation’s repeated failure in the Senate had created “an air of uncertainty for our higher education sector”.
“With only three months left in 2015, it is necessary to give both universities and students certainty about what the higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will be,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Therefore, today I am announcing that higher education funding arrangements for 2016 will not be changed from currently legislated arrangements while the Government consults further on reforms for the future. Any future reforms, should they be legislated, would not commence until 2017 at the earliest.”
Speaking to the ABC, Senator Birmingham declined to comment on potential costs of courses in the future.
He said that there were challenges for universities, such as global competition, but the delaying the legislation meant they could be discussed with stakeholders.
“The intended start date of 2016 for these reforms will not be proceeded with,” he said.
“It gives me as the new minister and Malcolm Turnbull as the new PM time to consult and discuss with universities, vice chancellors, students … about what is possible to address some of the challenges.”
Abbott ‘disappointed’ legislation shelved
The legislation sparked widespread protests from students when announced in the 2014 budget, alongside criticism from both Labor and the Greens.
The Opposition’s higher education spokesman, Kim Carr, said the policy needed to be scrapped, not just delayed.
Senator Carr said today’s announcement meant the potential for $100,000 degrees and an Americanisation of the university sector was “alive and well”.
“Mr Pyne’s package continues in all its glory,” he said.
“This is a policy that doesn’t need to be delayed, it needs to be scrapped. We are more than happy to fight the next election on this issue.”
Mr Pyne stood by the legislation while serving as education minister, recently stating that the Government would not walk away from the university reform.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has expressed his disappointment in the move by the Turnbull Government, telling 3AW’s Neil Mitchell his first budget was “too gutsy for the parliament that we had”.
“The higher education reforms that we proposed in the 2014 budget were the centrepiece of a brave reforming budget,” Mr Abbott said.
“We were modestly reducing government spending, we were moderately increasing the user-pays element of higher education and we were seeking to completely lift all the government rules and regulations off our universities.
“I am disappointed by [the shelving] and frankly I am a little disappointed that more of the people who keep saying we need reform, we need cuts in government spending did not get behind the 2014 budget.”
Source: ABC News