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Universities Australia urges government to ditch plans to cut university funding by 20%

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In order for universities to “play their crucial role in securing Australia’s future”, the representative body of Australian universities has called on the government for greater policy and funding certainty in the higher education sector.

In its pre-budget submission, Universities Australia, representing 39 of the country’s major universities, is pushing for the Turnbull administration to abandon its proposed AU$3.2 billion in cuts to university funding, stating that there is “no defensible case” for such a reduction.

The organisation’s Deputy Chief Executive, Catriona Jackson, said that the sector wanted university funding to at least maintain its current levels.

“Universities understand there are budget constraints,” she said, adding: “We are not asking for significant increases. Yet investments in universities are investments in Australia’s economic growth.”

“That’s why we’ve been so strong in saying that we should at least maintain funding to universities, even in difficult budget circumstances.

“We need to build on the many successes of Australia’s world-class university sector, and not undermine our country’s long-term future for short-term budget gain,” said Jackson.

Universities Australia also said in its submission that investing in higher education is “an investment in new jobs, new industries and a highly skilled workforce so Australians aren’t left behind in an era of global uncertainty and rapid change”.

“It’s also an economic imperative to lift both productivity and national income from research breakthrough,” it added.

“And of course, maintaining a world-class university system is essential to safeguard Australia’s third largest export – the education of international students – which brings in more than AU$20 billion.”

It has also asked the government to not strip AU$3.7 billion from the Education Investment Fund, which was created to help pay for university infrastructure.

“The magnitude of any such cuts would put at risk the quality of the higher education provided by Australian universities and run directly counter to the government’s ambition to reinvigorate the economy through education, research, and innovation,” it said, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The government has also hinted that it intends to announce a legislative package by the middle of the year, which will likely be based on the options paper for higher education reform that it released last year.

The paper included proposals for a new tier of “flagship courses” with deregulated fees, uncapping postgraduate student places, and recouping HECS debts from deceased estates.

However, while conceding that there may be a need for modest changes, Universities Australia says there’s no need to pursue a “dramatic overhaul” of the university system.

The Australian government is expected to announce the latest national budget in May.

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