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ACT universities warn cuts will hurt students

Unhappy ... University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker says cuts to uni funding will hit students hard.

Unhappy ... University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker says cuts to uni funding will hit students hard. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

Canberra universities have lashed out at funding cuts to higher education to help fund reforms in schools, predicting the move will hurt students and impact on frontline services.

About $2.3 billion will be taken from universities to be pumped into the school system in response to the Gonski review, with universities facing a 2 per cent efficiency dividend.

University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker said students would be hit hard by cuts, as institutions looked to prioritise revenue generation.

“It’s inequitable. Most of the burden will be borne by students,” Professor Parker told ABC radio.

He criticised the timing, with a strong Australian dollar driving away international students, but said UC had anticipated a fall in government support, and is well-placed to deal with the cuts.

"We have worked hard to put the University on a sound financial footing and we have a clear and robust plan for the future, so my initial reaction is that we can take this in our stride with some careful adjustments to our spending, but it will also encourage us in our determination to become less reliant on governments for funding."

Australian National University acting Vice Chancellor Margaret Harding criticised the "largest cuts to the sector" since 1996 in a letter to staff on Monday, and said students would feel the strain.

"The cuts will likely have a significant impact on the ANU budget, and affect many of our students directly,” Professor Harding said.

“The quality of Australian education and research, and its contribution to the economic growth of this nation, requires investment in the entire sector from kindergarten through to PhD. We can’t be a clever country without excellent education and research.”

The ANU Students’ Association is predicting an “on-the-ground” response from students, fearing courses with lower enrolments could be first to face the axe.

“Ultimately, it will affect students,” ANUSA president Alex Sladojevic told ABC radio.

“In the current fiscal climate many universities are facing, students are on edge with regard to things like quality of education and access to a variety of education.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told Fairfax on Sunday the Gonski reforms were never going to bring large sums of money to the ACT.

''Everyone has to realise there is not an endless supply of money,'' she said.

''At the moment it [the likely changes to higher education] is not clear; there is not a lot of detail. I'll need to speak to the vice-chancellors [of the University of Canberra and the Australian National University].''

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