Capital Hill with Lyndal Curtis

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

Topics: Higher education reforms.


Lyndal Curtis Joining me now is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Minister and Victorian senator, Scott Ryan. Scott Ryan, welcome to Capital Hill.

Scott Ryan           Good afternoon, Lyndal.

Curtis                    Now firstly, Mr Turnbull’s decision to take on Andrew Bolt. As I mentioned you’re from Melbourne, you know the reach Mr Bolt has. Is it a wise idea?

Ryan                      Look, I’m not going to tell journalists, or you Lyndal, how to do your job. I’ll say Andrew’s a friend of mine and I’m proud to say so. I have a lot of time for Andrew and we don’t always agree, he’s always one for discussion and argument, but as a politician I’m not going to tell journalists how to do their job.

Curtis                    Was the leadership question warranted?

Ryan                      I didn’t see the Bolt program yesterday. But look, I just have a view that politicians don’t need to tell journalists how to do their job. It’s a free media.

Curtis                    Mr Bolt has questioned the efforts Mr Turnbull is putting in, both to selling the Budget and attacking the Coalition’s media enemies. Do you think Mr Turnbull is putting in enough effort into those two things?

Ryan                      Well I think Malcolm, like very member of the Ministry and every member of the Government, is committed to convincing and outlining the need for the changes we proposed in the Budget to the Australian community. And he’s pulling his weight as a senior member of that team.

Curtis                    Now on the Budget sales job, Mr Pyne, the Education Minister, suggested yesterday that nothing changes on loan debt repayments for those enrolled before the Budget. That’s not true, is it? Because, from I think 2016, debt interest will go up for past students, current students and future students won’t it?

Ryan                      Well, what you outlined about 2016 is correct, about the interest rate changing as proposed in the Budget and the higher education reforms. I think, to be fair to the Minister though, having looked at what he said and what he was asked, it’s pretty clear to me that he was responding to the question about the change in fees. Which, of course, is proposed to be flexible from the night of the Budget, from the 13th of May this year. And this sometimes happens when you’re doing remote interviews, Lyndal.

Curtis                    On the question of fees the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Glyn Davis, has talked about the changes being ‘social experiment without precedent’. He’s talked about the impact of increasing, compounding interest on what jobs future students might take. Whether they choose to go into the private sector because it pays more than the public sector, when they choose to have children, whether they choose to buy a house. Do you believe that is the possible unintended consequences of the decisions the Government has taken?

Ryan                      Well let’s also go to, for the purposes of completeness, to what Glyn Davis said on Melbourne radio this morning. He also debunked Bill Shorten’s hyperbolic claims about increases in fees. They’re just not based in fact. When he was specifically asked by Neil Mitchell, were the numbers that he put in his email reflective of what he planned to do in increasing fees. He denied it. He said it wasn’t the case.

Curtis                    No he said in fact that the numbers he put in, which included some fees – particularly for engineering going up by over 60%, is to make up the gap between what the universities get now and the lesser amount they all get because of cuts in government funding.

Ryan                      Well let’s also be clear, the Government is increasing spending on higher education and research in this Budget. Spending is going up. What the Government has done is have two parts of the package of reform. Firstly, to deregulate fees to allow our universities to be their best, and for the first time you might start to get different fees for law degrees at Melbourne, Monash, UQ, Griffith University and all the universities around Australia that offer it.

Curtis                    It is also though cutting payments to universities, isn’t it?

Ryan                      And it’s also expanding access to Commonwealth Supported Places to non-traditionally publicly-funded universities and to students doing associate degrees, diplomas and associate diplomas, often whom are bridging courses to go into university. Until this package was announced by Christopher Pyne, those students didn’t get access to Commonwealth Supported Places.

Curtis                    It is cutting money that will go to universities and some of the increased fees, if universities charge more, will be to simply to make that gap up.

Ryan                      It’s actually about spreading the pie further and it’s actually about ensuring that tens of thousands of Australian students that don’t get access to publicly funded places, because they don’t choose a traditional public university, actually for the first time ever can access that sort of support.

Curtis                    Glyn Davis also suggested this morning that the requirement for part of the higher fees to go to scholarships only applies after the price rises mitigate cuts to the Commonwealth Grants Scheme. Is that the case?

Ryan                      That’s the case and all the detail around this is available on the Department of Education’s website.

Curtis                    So in fact the scholarships, the number of scholarships, may not be there if universities only choose to increase fees to cover that gap?

Ryan                      Well, universities have always offered scholarships. I mean Melbourne University’s been offering scholarships for decades. So…

Curtis                    …So part of your sales pitch in this Budget is that it would increase the number of scholarships?

Ryan                      That it would increase. Twenty percent; one in five of every additional dollar actually has to be directed towards scholarships, particularly for disadvantaged students. But that’s on top of the existing scholarships and programmes that every university has got in place, and which have expanded over the last twenty years.

Curtis                    One final question. The Minister, Christopher Pyne, has been talking about taxpayers who don’t go to university having to fund the education of those who do. But the people who get degrees will earn more over those lifetimes and those who get incomes will also pay tax that would itself pay for their degrees several times over, wouldn’t they?

Ryan                      Well, sometimes and not necessarily is the correct answer to that. Let’s just put this in context. At the moment, the Australian taxpayer subsidises just under sixty percent of the average university undergraduate degree. Under these proposals that falls to just under fifty percent. So the taxpayer is still subsidising, on average, about half. At the same time as we’re giving access to tens of thousands of students, who because they don’t choose Melbourne University or Monash University, they might choose a TAFE or a private institute, are going to get access to Commonwealth Supported Places for the first time ever.

Curtis                    Scott Ryan, thank you very much for your time.

Ryan                      Thanks, Lyndal.


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