Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Breaking news…..

Monday, September 11 2017

The word is out that the push is on to get the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (A more Sustainable, Responsive and Transparent Higher Education System) Bill 2017 through this week.

This is big news for our industry and it can’t be ignored.

Most importantly it is not about public or private, it is about equity.

So, what are the issues? My key message is that these are not ACPET’s issues. They are the industry’s, including TAFE.

There are essentially two key issues – for us anyway.

Higher Education Loans

Our fundamental issue with the Bill remains that equitable and fair access to higher education should be provided for all students, regardless of their choice of provider. This means equitable access to HELP arrangements that do not discriminate against students enrolled with private universities and non-university higher education providers (NUHEPs).

This is such a fundamental inequity I just can’t accept that it won’t be addressed.

Currently our students pay a 25% administration fee on their loans through FEE-HELP to fund their studies. This administration fee can add around $15,000 to the cost of a performing arts or education bachelor degree.

Public university students of course don’t, even though their courses are also subsidised by the tax payer.

Those who enrol in sub-degree courses with public universities (another part of the Bill) also will have access to government subsidies and won’t pay this administration fee.

My point is very simple - The retention of these loan administration fees is neither fair nor equitable and should be abolished through amendment to the Bill.

Analysis by the Grattan Institute itself estimated that the FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP fees (these students pay a 20% administration fee) were some $450M in 2016. With what has now happened in VET a much more modest impact is likely if the Bill is amended.

To ensure sustainability, on the condition of addressing this inequity, we support the proposed reduction in the minimum income threshold for the repayment of HELP debts to $42,000.

Without this change the Government is charging individuals extra (for returns to consolidated revenue) simply for choosing a provider other than a university.

Government Subsidies

The Bill also will extend Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) for public universities to deliver approved sub-degree courses (diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees).

This is a major concern.

Four private universities, 123 private colleges and TAFE’s which deliver higher education courses will not be provided this access.

Students therefore who make a choice will be required to meet the full cost of their study (plus the administration fee). They will receive no government tuition support.

Private universities, NUHEP’s and TAFE higher education delivery is growing for a reason – they are responding to the needs of their students and industry.

Yes, real alternatives and choice for students seeking to access higher education.

In proposing the extension of Government subsidy to sub-degree courses the Government highlighted the importance of eligible courses linking to industry needs and providing flexibility in meeting workforce demands.

Interesting as in this space private VET providers and TAFEs already bring those links to industry, delivering nationally recognised training approved by industry. This capacity should surely be harnessed and not undermined. The extension of CSPs to sub-degree courses delivered by public universities only will reinforce the financial penalty and inequity faced by those students who make a non-university choice.

There is a genuine risk here that this proposed change will cannibalise enrolments, not only with NUHEPs, but also with public and private VET providers that deliver Australian Qualifications Framework level courses through VET.

There appears here only one choice, which demands change to the Bill. To ensure equity, the extension of Government subsidies for sub-degrees should include private universities, NUHEPs, including TAFEs which deliver Higher Education programs and also high level VET courses.

If not, the change should be taken off the table.

Time to get active – common sense often does not prevail

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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