Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Another week rushes past!

Monday, January 19 2015

As mentioned in the previous NMU, I have spent the last week participating in Australia Business Week in India.

The week's events were structured to maximise the engagement opportunities for the 450 delegates and their Indian counterparts. The Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, played a major role in the week and he announced that the delegation represented the largest ever delegation that has visited India. The NSW Premier Mike Baird, many of our political leaders and around 450 business leaders participated in the week.  India has become Australia's fifth biggest export market, and a significant purchaser of educational services, to the value of $1.9B in 2013. This surely is but a start.

International education is therefore of the highest priority for ACPET and many of our membership are working hard to establish relationships in India. The Australian Business Week program presented many opportunities for ACPET to help our members develop these new opportunities. The delegation is also a chance to help influence discussions and priorities for the possible future Free Trade Agreement through participation in meetings with Minister Robb.

An exciting yet challenging environment.

The critical challenge for our sector continues to be the Higher Education and Reform Bill, which failed to pass the Senate. You would all be aware that Minister for Education subsequently reintroduced an amended Bill to the House of Representatives for consideration.

While the amended Bill preserves essential elements of the reforms, the new Bill includes the following changes:

  • retain indexation of outstanding student debt by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the 10-year bond rate previously proposed;
  • a pause on HECS indexation for primary carers of children under 5 years;
  • a structural adjustment fund to assist universities to transition to a more competitive market, particularly in regional areas;
  • a new scholarship fund within the Higher Education and Participation program for universities with high proportions of low SES students; and
  • a guarantee that domestic student fees will be lower than international student fees.

Already this year has seen continued media reporting on the proposed reforms and most notably, the use of template letters for so called ‘students’ to sign to show their lack of support for the reforms.

The defeat of the Reforms was a major blow for our sector and particularly for low SES and regional students across Australia. A fact that is not being reported is that extending government supported places to non-university higher education providers and removing the 25 percent administration fee for HELP assistance will create a more level playing field for all higher education students.

Blocking these reforms means students at private colleges will continue to pay full fees and face higher debt levels to access loan assistance compared to their public university contemporaries. It also means a lack of new competition in the sector, another important dimension in ensuring University fees do not skyrocket and that flexible, innovative options abound.

The proposed changes are therefore not only critical for our sector, they are an essential component of developing a high quality, innovative and affordable tertiary education sector.

I continue to be concerned that the key beneficiaries from the reforms, students, are not sufficiently aware of or engaged in the discussions. They will be the real winners here. While so called students (?) may be co-opted to sign the negative template campaign, we as a sector need to counter this by ensuring our students are aware of the simple message - the Reform Package will produce a far more effective sector, where students will have more options and lower costs.

If Universities do push prices up, students will have great options, only if the reforms are passed.

The decision makers in this debate do need to hear the views of the real students – the ones who were disadvantaged by the blockage of the reform Bill.

If you need support, ACPET is prepared to help.

Rod Camm


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