Labor slams uni fee changes
Applying interest to HECS loans will deter people from studying at university, says Labor MP and former university lecturer Andrew Leigh.PT6M18S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39dgw 620 349 June 2, 2014
Cuts to funding for engineering and science students have fuelled fears about the viability of the federal government's nation-building agenda, including big construction projects such as Badgerys Creek.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he wants to be known as the ''infrastructure prime minister'' and announced a $10 billion infrastructure spending package in last month's budget.
"If we're not careful ... fewer students will study engineering.": Stephen Durkin, Engineers Australia CEO. Photo: Supplied
But the budget also included a cut in the government's contribution - by an average of 20 per cent - towards the cost of university courses that would supply the expertise for these projects. Disciplines such as engineering and the sciences will face bigger cuts.
University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence said the government was not formulating smart public policy.
''Australia is basically good at three things: we can dig things out of the ground, and grow things, and we produce very clever people,'' he told ABC Radio.
''It is not smart public policy in a context when we are trying to encourage more participation by young Australians [in science and engineering] given their importance to national capacity building.''
University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis estimates engineering fees at the university could soar by 61 per cent under a deregulated system.
Engineers Australia chief executive Stephen Durkin called on the government to reconsider its changes to university funding rates, saying students would be deterred from studying engineering.
He estimated that the total cost of a four-year engineering degree would cost about $103,000. The government picks up the tab for about $68,000, and the remaining $34,000 is the student's deferred contribution. Upon deregulation in 2016, the government will cover $48,180 of the bill and the student will face a $117,650 bill.
''We have grave concerns about this … if we're not careful, then fewer students will study engineering at our universities and that's not in our national interest,'' Mr Durkin said. ''With projects such as Badgerys Creek coming online over the next five to 10 years, there will be a big demand for engineers because we will be back in boom times.
''It seems problematic that engineering - which is cost-intensive with laboratories, and research and analysis - is now being funded at the same level as mathematics, which is classroom focused.''
A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said a working group would examine the new funding arrangements for 2016 onwards, which were announced the day after the budget.
Chief scientist Ian Chubb said on the weekend that Australia was a nation without a plan.
Professor Chubb was commenting on the $420 million funding cuts to the CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Australian Research Council, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the Co-operative Research Centres and a few other agencies, as well as the university funding cuts.
He said nowhere did a policy or strategy exist that set out the vision for the future, and how science and innovation could help achieve that. ''You don't go out and buy your bricks before you know what kind of house you're going to build,'' he said.