Interview – ABC AM with Michael Brissenden - Higher Education reforms
- Minister for Education
- Leader of the House
SUBJECT: Higher education reforms
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mr Pyne, welcome to the program.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Michael.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Any indication yet that you'll have the support that you need in the Senate regardless of what happens in the Lower House of course where it will pass?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the reform bill is a lot more than just the elements that you mentioned in the introduction. It's an expansion of opportunity to a lot more students because we're going to expand the demand driven system to the diplomas and associate diplomas.
It's the biggest Commonwealth scholarships fund in Australia's history. It will expand the Commonwealth grant scheme to non-university higher education providers.
All these elements mean that at least 80,000 more students a year will get the opportunity to go to university.
And we will be allowing universities to put a value on their courses so that they can raise the revenue that they need to compete with our Asian counterparts.
We're going to ask the students to pay 50 per cent of the cost of their education. They're currently only paying 40 per cent of the cost of their education.
So it is a very significant reform, the biggest in 40 years.
To answer your question specifically, sorry: It will pass the House of Representatives of course. I still believe that the momentum is with these reforms. Reform is necessary and the university vice chancellors are here in Canberra this week and they'll continue to be here until the end of the year urging the cross bench senators and the Greens and Labor to recognise that the status quo is not an option for universities. There must be some kind of reform. That's what the universities want.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It is arguably the biggest shake-up of education since the Whitlam era, I would imagine. It's going to increase, the bottom line is, apart from all of those things that you stated, is going to increase the cost of going to university…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: By a marginal amount, yes.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, the heads of HECS, the architect of the HECS scheme says twice, perhaps three times the cost of what people are currently paying…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And there are vice chancellors who are saying the increase could be as little as 10 per cent and that many university courses will drop.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But some will increase, won't they?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Of course.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that's the problem isn't it? That's the nub of the problem is that you haven't convinced enough people in the Upper House to support the program basically because of those, those elements of the program, not the ones that you're talking about?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, you know big reform is often very difficult. And the Whitlam reforms weren't very significant. All that Gough Whitlam did was allow middle-class Australians who were going to university to go for nothing. It didn't change the mix of the students at uni at all.
The biggest reforms were the Dawkins reforms and these are the biggest reforms since the Dawkins reforms and they are vital.
Now, we're asking students to pay 50 per cent of the cost of their education. That is not a big ask. They still have the most generous loan scheme they'll ever have, the envy of the world. They don't pay a dollar of it back until they earn over $50,000 a year and then they can only be asked to pay 2 per cent of their income at the lowest interest rates that they'll ever be offered by anyone.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But you don't have the support of Clive Palmer. He's said he won't support it. Jacqui Lambie said she won't support it. You need two of the Palmer United Party to support you in the Senate. Presumably you're going to go after Glenn Lazarus and Ricky Muir - any indication from them that they'll support it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Michael it's very early days. The bill is being introduced this morning. I mean I'm very excited about this reform because it's very, very important and I have a lot of energy and I intend to keep pressing ahead with these reforms.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What happens if it doesn't get through the Senate?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, let's see if it does or it doesn't. I'm not going to start speculating about what the next round will look like when the first round isn't even finished yet.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But clearly there's an important timetable that universities need to know about…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That's true.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: …and if it doesn't get through the Senate then changes for next year or the year after are going to be more difficult, aren't they?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, there's a start date of the 1st of January, 2016 on these reforms so we've got the rest of this year to negotiate and talk and debate and then 2015 to implement the machinery provisions of these reforms at universities. But if we end the year without the reform, universities won't be thanking the Palmer United Party. If they think that status quo is what people want, they are wrong.
The universities do not want to leave the system as it is. They want to do what the universities need, what our students need. They will allow some reform to occur though the Senate and I'm very confident that there will be a reform to universities by the end of this year.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As you've been prosecuting this argument, there have been a number of threats including the cuts to research funding. Presumably that hasn't worked. Now it's clearly time for compromise. Where are you going to compromise?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I've made absolutely no threats to cut research funding. There's been speculation about a myriad number of things and that's been some of the speculation, but I've made no such threat. Tony Abbott and I are very committed to research funding; in fact we're increasing research funding to $11 billion over the next four years.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So there will be no cuts regardless of what happens with this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we have absolutely no plans to cut research. What we do need to do is increase the revenue to universities and that is not going to come from the taxpayer because the taxpayer has no more to give.
The students are getting a fabulous deal. They'll have a higher education qualification which will mean they'll earn 75 per cent over a lifetime more than people without a higher education qualification average. They have lower unemployment, they have better health outcomes, they have a longer life expectancy.
Now these are fabulous outcomes for students who go to university. At the moment they're paying just 40 per cent of the cost of that education and 60 per cent is being borne by the taxpayer. So we're not asking them for the world. We're simply asking them to contribute 10 per cent more to the cost of their education so we can have a world class university system and some of the best universities in the world.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, it's pretty clear some of your own ranks still remain to be convinced as well. This will have a bigger impact in regional Australia arguably than it will have in the metropolitan centres. What can you do to persuade those regional members, the members of your Coalition who are still concerned about this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the party room unanimously adopted my reforms on Tuesday so I'm not sure to whom you are referring.
I can say that regional universities will be the biggest winners from this reform because the expansion of the demand driven system to the sub bachelor courses, diplomas and associate diplomas, they are very represented in regional areas. Regional universities, universities like the University of Western Sydney run a lot of these pathways programs.
Now these pathways programs are vital for low SES and disadvantaged young people and mature aged students to get to university and to be re-skilled if they're mature aged students. They use them to get into undergraduate degrees. We're expanding that to the demand driven system to those courses so that more students will get the chance from low SES background and that'll be a big advantage to rural and regional universities.
They'll also be able to package up their Commonwealth scholarships to attract more students. They can compete on price for the first time under these reforms. They have a great standard of living, a lower cost of living. They can help their students with relocation costs, with accommodation and living expenses because why would they give them a tuition scholarship when they can borrow all that money from the taxpayer and pay it back after $50,000?
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, it all sounds terrific but you've still got a problem…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It is a fantastic reform.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: …you still have a problem in the Senate getting it through, don't you?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, let's see.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, Christopher Pyne thank you very much for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thanks Michael.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that was Christopher Pyne, the Education Minister.