THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 2 MAY 2017
SUBJECT: Liberals’ higher student fees and cuts to unis
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now we'll return to one of our top stories today, those Budget cuts to the higher education sector announced by the Government. To discuss this I'm pleased to be joined by Labor Deputy Leader and Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek good morning, welcome to Breakfast.
TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning.
TRIOLI: The Government’s proposals do seem a world away from those highly unpopular 2014 changes and total deregulation off the table as well. So given that, do you think these proposals are going to find a more sympathetic Senate?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's a real credit to the students, academics, university sector and those of us in the Parliament who supported them, that the worst of the cuts have been fought off – the 20% cuts that were proposed in the 2014 Budget to university operating grants and the complete deregulation of student fees. But I wouldn't say that this package is a good package for universities. We're still talking about $3 billion of cuts. We're still talking about higher fees for students. We're still talking about cuts to universities and their operating expenses So the fact that the Government weren't able to get the worst of their package through the Senate I don't think should give people too much comfort. We should be investing in our universities – they're a great driver of economic productivity in this country. We need educated Australians to do the jobs of the future, we need the university research that drives productivity, innovation, invention in our economy, and frankly to be making these cuts in order to pay for a $50 billion big business tax giveaway, I think it shows the Government continues to have the wrong priorities.
TRIOLI: It's interesting though, looking at the context in which this comes, because a 2015 report that I remember being quite startled by that was released by the Grattan Institute, which is a very good institute, an independent one when it comes to looking at educational issues, found that universities were pretty much awash with money. They earn up to $3.2 billion a year more from students than they actually spend on teaching. So I guess the question arises at a time when you're trying to balance your budget, that shouldn't the use of public money for institutions like that, that are not underfunded, be carefully scrutinised and used?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely, the use of public money should always be carefully scrutinised. But universities have more than one important role. Teaching students so they can be great contributors to our economy and our society in future, that's a very important role for universities, but research –
TRIOLI: Sure but I just want to very quickly jump in if I can, just very quickly, because the Grattan Institute found just on that point that teaching, and this is the quote "teaching at current quality levels is not generally underfunded in Australia" so they're doing what you would like them to do and they're doing it well funded.
PLIBERSEK: Well I think any student and plenty of academics would tell you that the constant cuts to universities in recent years have really put pressure on things like the size of classes, the size of tutorials and so on. But we do still have, as you say, a very good quality education system by global standards and part of the reason for that is universities are also doing first-rate research. These cuts make it harder to deliver top quality teaching and harder to do the research that keep universities relevant, that keep their academic staff engaged, that give their students opportunities to become researchers themselves. We also see in this package absolutely no consideration for the investment in infrastructure. The new laboratories, teaching facilities and so on that universities need. So teaching is one part of universities' budgets, it's not the whole of the university budget. One of the reasons that Australian universities have managed to survive the cuts of this Liberal Government already is because they are very successfully marketing themselves overseas as well. But we can't continue to rely on revenue from overseas students to prop up teaching and research in Australian universities.
JOURNALIST: Tanya Plibersek, do you think then, given all that though and the context in which it comes, do you think that these changes might get through the Senate, from what you understand this rather unusual usually composed Senate might think?
PLIBERSEK: Well there's a very wide range of changes in this package that was announced by Simon Birmingham last night, so I can't give you a view on all of those measures. We're looking very closely at them. What I'd say from Labor's perspective is we don't want to see student fees increase. Australian students are already – if you look across the OECD we are the sixth highest contributors to the cost of our own university education across the OECD, so we don't want to see students paying more. We don't want to see them saddled with higher debts coming out of university at the same time as they're trying to buy a house, start a family, and all the rest of it, to be saddled with much higher debts. But there are many elements of this package that we will have to look at more closely than that and examine in some detail to see whether they support teaching and research and the other functions of our universities or whether they contradict it.
TRIOLI: Alright we'll leave it there. Tanya Plibersek, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.
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