Interview with Matthew Abraham on ABC 891

  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

SUBJECT:  Review of the demand driven system of university places

HON CHRISTOPHER PYNE MP: Good morning, Mark. Good morning, Matthew.

COMPERE: But you're with us and you're planning to - well, you're planning to - is it restore the cap?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, that's not what I've said.

COMPERE: What are you going to do then?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I've said that we will put quality in tertiary education as our number one priority, and that means we need to review the demand driven system of university places because there is some evidence - and the previous Government - and Kim Carr was the minister - had a similar view. There is some evidence that quality is suffering in terms - to achieve quantity. And Australia's universities have a magnificent international reputation. We have third behind the US and the UK in universities in the top echelons internationally, and it would be madness for us to throw away our international reputation by lessening quality. So I haven’t said anything about putting caps back on or...

COMPERE: No but...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I've said that we'll look at whether they're having an impact on quality.

COMPERE: But only back in July - it's only a few weeks ago - you told the ABC 7:30 program that you were not considering restoring the cap, and now you [inaudible].

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No. No, David. We have no plans to restore the cap. But it would be totally irresponsible, as a new Minister for Education, not to review whether the demand driven system was affecting quality.

COMPERE: But the only way you can fix that, is it not - how would you address that? Let me put it like that because, at the moment, universities are funded - according to John Ross's piece on this in The Australian today - to enrol as many capable students as they can attract. Correct?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Ah, yes, that's [inaudible].

COMPERE: How would you - if that's affecting quality how would you stop that?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, there is some suggestion from intelligent people in the sector that we've reached the saturation point of the number of Australian students who want to go to university. So, in fact, the cap - the lifting of the cap may well be, now, a moot point. I mean there's a lot of discussion in the sector about this which doesn't really make it into the mainstream media. There are a lot of people who believe that lifting the cap had an impact on bringing more people into universities and that that may have led to a reduction in quality, which is not good for the system.

As a Minister for Education who has a passion for ensuring that our universities are the best in the world, I am very keen to make sure that the enrolment processes for our universities are - mean that we will be able to maintain our reputation for high quality.

COMPERE: What have you been doing in opposition all these years as education spokesman?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Trying to get to the Government.

COMPERE: But hadn’t you worked out what you were going to do when you got there?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Absolutely. That's why I'm reviewing the demand driven system.

COMPERE: But why do you need to hold a review? You've got a pretty good idea, surely. If you haven’t been wasting your time in opposition you've got a pretty good idea what you want to do.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I've been the minister for six days, and it would be rather arrogant of me to assume that I knew everything about the ins and outs of demand and driven higher education system.

COMPERE: How long have you been the education spokesman?


COMPERE: And you haven’t got a clue what you want to do with universities?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I have a very good clue about it. That's why in the interviews that I've given to the newspapers today I've talked about our priorities being restoring international education as an export industry, which Labor took a sledgehammer to - reduced by a quarter over [inaudible] reducing red tape regulation reporting from the Tertiary Educations and Quality Standards Authority, which is stifling innovation and creativity, reviewing the demand driven student placement system, because I do have very clear ideas about what I want to do with universities, and it will make universities better. I'm very keen to get on with it and, of course, I've only been here for six days. I'm working with the bureaucracy, and I would be - quite arrogant of me to announce yesterday...

COMPERE: Don't talk the clock down.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...exactly what we'll be doing.

COMPERE: Don't talk the clock down, Chris Pyne. I know you're a minister now. Don't talk the clock...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [inaudible].

COMPERE: Okay. We'll come to Mark Butler in a moment. Chris Pyne, do you feel that quite a lot of young people who are being accepted into university courses - where the courses are taking hundreds of students - it can be nursing, it can be journalism; you can name a whole lot of them - can be the law, and the uni knows, and the market knows, there are no jobs out there for them. Are those two children - young people being taken advantage of - in other words, are they being dudded?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, what's your - the question you're putting is an argument for putting back the cap. So...

COMPERE: That's what I'm asking.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: If that's what you're asking - if that's the question you're asking - well, there's certainly a lot of evidence that the number of students being enrolled has grown exponentially. And whether they have grown in the courses that have a career path is one of the things that we need to carefully consider. It would be wrong of the universities and the Commonwealth Government to simply be training people for careers that don't exist. And I think that is a very important point that you've made.

COMPERE: Mark Butler, do you think there is a problem there though, that young people - they're taking up loans equivalent of what was a mortgage [inaudible]?

HON MARK BUTLER MP: Maybe if I can have a chance to respond to Chris's very lengthy dissertation.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I was asked a question.

MARK BUTLER: No, no. And Chris waited 20 years to become a minister, and he's taken six days to break his first solemn promise to the Australian people. I mean still on Christopher's website is a solemn undertaking that they would not reintroduce the cap on university fees. And as David pointed out, that was a promise he repeated right up to the election date, and it's taken him six days to reverse that promise. Now, yes, you'll hear...

COMPERE: [inaudible].

MARK BUTLER: ...weasel words about re-examining the demand driven policy. Everyone knows that those are code words for reintroducing the cap.

COMPERE: But maybe [inaudible].

MARK BUTLER: Well, let me say, there are two things about that. One, it's a solemn promise. It's taken Chris six days to break it. The second thing though is that removing the cap was the second great equity reform in universities. The first was the removal of substantial up front university fees by Whitlam forty years ago. But...

COMPERE: Which was reversed by Labor [inaudible].

MARK BUTLER: ...up front university fees 40 years ago. And...

COMPERE: [inaudible].

MARK BUTLER: ...even the most cursory glances of university entrance data shows that young Australians from poorer backgrounds are grossly under-represented in our universities.

[Over speaking]

COMPERE: ...saddled with lifelong debts for jobs that they're not going to get.

MARK BUTLER: Let me finish, let me finish. And of the 190,000 or so extra places that were created through the removal of the cap by our Government, a disproportionate number of those places were filled. Vastly more were filled from kids from poorer backgrounds who simply were not getting access to university...

[Over speaking]

MARK BUTLER: This is a great equity measure.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And how many of them are well educated and flipping burgers at Maccas?

MARK BUTLER: Oh well, that's just a flippant way to...

[Over speaking]

MARK BUTLER: ...the importance of a university education being...

[Over speaking]

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What's the point of having a university...

MARK BUTLER: Not an academic right, but a practical right of all kids to be able to get to.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What's the point of having a university education if you can't do anything with it?

MARK BUTLER: Well, look, I think that's a very sensible point that everyone could agree upon. It's important that young people going to university have proper counselling about whether the course they're intending to study is suitable to their particular strengths and capacities and whether there are jobs out there. But that's a different point [inaudible]. It's a different point to having a policy that ensures that young people across the community have access to university education.

COMPERE: Mark Butler, do you think it's immoral for universities to take the money from kids knowing that they won't get a job?

MARK BUTLER: Well, I mean it assumes that universities are able to guarantee a job. I mean I think it's important that young people have good counselling about, firstly...

COMPERE: But there should be a reasonable expectation…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...that there's a match between their skills and the university course they're considering and, yes, job opportunities. I think that's right. But that's distracting from the key issue here, which is that the Coalition, after six days, has said that they want to reverse what the second great equity reform in our universities - rubbish. It's just garbage. You know, you must be living in a bubble, Mark Butler, if you think that there is not an issue in universities about whether there are quality issues about the extraordinary number of students being enrolled. You could go to any university in South Australia and they will tell you that they want this matter reviewed. And, in fact, Kim Carr - your Labor minister - was the first person to raise [inaudible] reviews. So you really need to check the talking points coming out of headquarters because what you're saying is complete la-la land.

MARK BUTLER: Well, look, I didn't say there weren't issues around quality. What I did say...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Oh, now you are saying there are issues.

MARK BUTLER: You're cloaking a broken promise and an intention to impose cuts on universities with language about quality.

[Over speaking]

MARK BUTLER: ...cut university by $2.8 billion.

COMPERE: Chris Pyne, just before you leave us, are you going to also cut what are, effectively, student union fees?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, our priorities are international education, the red tape through TEQSA and reviewing the demand driven system to make sure it's achieving quality. We oppose the student amenities fee. Is it a priority for the Government? No, it's not a priority. But, of course, we still remain opposed to the student amenities fee.

COMPERE: So you will cut them?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, it's not a priority. Our priorities are the three that I've outlined.

COMPERE: Well, you can chew gum and walk at the same time, can't you?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we want to make sure that we...

COMPERE: When you get around to it.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...get on with our priorities. And Mark Butler claims that I've broken a solemn promise. I've done no such thing. I've said exactly what Kim Carr said, which was that we needed to review the demand driven system.

COMPERE: Mark Butler [inaudible].

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I haven’t announced anything about putting caps on.

MARK BUTLER: Well, read the Fairfax press and The Australian today - their interpretation of Christopher's statements - and reconcile them with Christopher's website. I challenge anyone to do that.

COMPERE: Mark Butler, thank you; Labor MP for Port Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, and Chris Pyne.

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