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Education Minister Christopher Pyne: set universities 'free' to create a US-style system

Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne. Photo: Andrew Meares

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has given his strongest sign yet the Abbott government will extend taxpayer funds to for-profit universities in a bid to cultivate a US-style college system in Australia.

In a speech to a London think tank on Monday night, Mr Pyne said a new wave of deregulation was needed to stop Australia's universities falling behind the rest of the world.

The speech follows the release two weeks ago of the Kemp-Norton review, which recommended federal funding for private universities, TAFEs and other non-university higher education providers.

Although Universities Australia initially warned the idea represents a "huge gamble" with potentially "devastating consequences", some of Australia's most influential vice-chancellors support the proposal. They include the University of Melbourne's Glyn Davis, the University of NSW's Fred Hilmer and La Trobe University's John Dewar.

TAFEs and the private education sector have also welcomed the review.

While not announcing the government's official response to the review, Mr Pyne strongly hinted the government would adopt the recommendation in the May budget.

"I can assure you unreservedly that the Coalition government will continue to take steps to set higher education providers free, provide them with more autonomy and challenge them to map out their futures according to their strengths," he said.

"We are at risk of being left behind. We need a renewed ambition and it must be bold … Our answer will be, above all, to set our universities free."

Regulation by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency would ensure that quality is maintained, he said.

Mr Pyne said he was alarmed only one Australian university, the University of Melbourne, is in the top 50 in the world, according to the latest Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. While seven Australian universities went backwards in the rankings last year, Asian universities are storming up the leader board. Eight of the top 10 were US universities. 

"We have much to learn about universities competing for students and focusing on our students," he said. "Not least, we have much to learn about this from our friends in the United States."

Mr Pyne said the US college system offers students more choice, encourages competition and foments a culture of philanthropy.

Mr Pyne did not outline how the government would fund the expansion of Commonwealth-supported places to the private sector. One option would be backing the elite universities' call for a deregulation of university fees so students in high-quality, high-income degrees pay more for their education. Another would be reforming the student loans scheme to recover outstanding debts from students who move overseas or who die, as recommended by the Grattan Institute.

Professor Dewar said: "I don’t think the sector has anything to fear from more competition in the market."

But he said universities – which conduct research as well as teach – should receive more government funding than teaching-only colleges.

"There should be a recognition that universities have costs above and beyond our counterparts in the private sector," he said. 

85 comments

  • It is great to have politicians who will fight for our freedoms. The car industry workers have been set free to pursue other opportunities. Laws are to be changed so we can tell coloured people about themselves. Financial advisers will be freed of red tape so they can scrape a decent living. Now the universities will be free to help build Utopia, by favouring moneyed people. God is good.

    Commenter
    adam
    Location
    yarrawonga
    Date and time
    April 29, 2014, 8:05AM
    • @ Adam - What part of this article indicates HECS will not be available to support all students? I come from an older generation but most of the students I knew didn't have that support (HECS) and worked jobs as well as study to pay for it. A lot easier now..
      Pyne's point is our relative standards have dropped by world standards, whether you accept it or not. This country makes a motza out of international students. It's in all our interests to keep our Unis at the pointy end of recognition.
      Also, if you expect a very expensive facility to be provided for free, it's either not going to be much good or we're all going to have to pay a lot more tax, whether we go to Uni or not. Do you think thats fairer?

      Commenter
      wennicks
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 9:07AM
    • Pyne thought bubble alert - if this turns into an actual thought-out implementable policy, I'll eat my shorts - It's just Pyne parroting a review which executive summary he has bothered to read on the plane to the London jaunt. I await the triple backflip with grin from the policy bankrupt education minister

      Commenter
      rod steiger
      Location
      toukley
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 9:43AM
    • Wenmicks - the American system provides education to a privileged few !
      The American University System does not provide equal opportunity to education for all - which is how we do things here - the American system provides brilliant educations for the wealthy and not a great deal for any one else.
      The American school education system is a failure, with fair lower standards there than in china and the other OECD countries!
      Why do the LNP keep wanting to copy the American system, the American Health System is non existent and not much different from that of failed states. There is no social security system to speak of and due to the minimum wage being so low - many of the working poor live on the streets or their cars and are technically home less!
      Can they please use decent problem solving to enhance our education system - not aping what some would view as a failed society!
      If they cant do that Can the LNP please look for guidance from those systems that work well such as those in Northern Europe!

      Commenter
      crymeariver
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 9:58AM
    • Wennicks - even though students can get HECS it isn't really enough to live on. Most still have to work to get through Uni and then have a large bill that is indexed every year to contend with. And though you are right that support measures were not mentioned, knowing this and other conservatives governments setting the university section free will probably mean $100,000+ fees and next to know student assistance. It is setting the sector up for the rich in Australia and the overseas wealthy not for ordinary Australians. I don't trust this man one bit to do the right thing for the working and middle class Australians.

      Commenter
      Paul H
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 10:22AM
    • Oh silly silly Christopher, you're at it again. When will you ever learn?

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 10:54AM
    • Wennicks read the associated article published over the weekend, it provides more detail.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 10:59AM
    • So it's time for poor old Christopher Pyne to pop up on the policy merry-go-debacle again. As sure as Hunt follows Brandis who follows Sinodinos who follows whatshisname in defence who follows poor old Malcolm who follows scary Julie, Christopher will pop up in the east (eventually) with some new piece of policy lunacy balanced on his head.

      Anyway I really think it's time to ask ourselves how we managed to assemble a government full of so many weirdos and freaks. It's like the Three Stooges but with the Three Stooges there was only three of them.

      It's as if every one of the nastiest least popular most bitterly entitled kids from every school across the country formed a club and now they're out to get us. Where does the LNP find these creatures. They even make Clive Palmer look sensible and sane.

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 11:03AM
    • 'Pyne's point is our relative standards have dropped by world standards, whether you accept it or not.'

      I accept it. How do we sustain an output of high quality graduates when the raw material is often almost functionally illiterate. That is what Gonski and My School are about. If you check the stats on which schools the highest university achievers in Victoria come from, I suggest you will find it is the selective entry public schools, and less from private schools. 'You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.'

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 11:23AM
    • "It's as if every one of the nastiest least popular most bitterly entitled kids from every school across the country formed a club and now they're out to get us."

      Beautifully put, GOV, and disturbingly accurate.

      Commenter
      david
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 29, 2014, 12:00PM

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