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Albanese Government must put students first and hold universities to account

The Universities Accord was an opportunity to push for real reform in the higher education sector.

Improving our higher education sector is about much more than providing more university places. It must also be about ensuring that these students actually complete their degrees.

Only 41 per cent of undergraduate students complete their degrees within the first four years. This number is far worse for Indigenous students with a completion rate of only 26 per cent.

Universities must do a much better job to ensure that students complete courses which lead to meaningful employment outcomes. Universities must also be transparent about everything from completion rates to the way courses are delivered.

It is disappointing the Albanese Government is not prepared to properly hold universities to account for poor student outcomes which can saddle Australians with unsustainable HECS debts, made worse by Labor’s skyrocketing indexation rate.

Education Minister Jason Clare has shown a reckless disregard for the impact of the 7.1 per cent increase in student loans owed by more than 3 million Australians, driven by Labor’s cost of living crisis.

While the government is building on the work of the Coalition which uncapped university places for indigenous students in regional and remote Australia, Labor must ensure it doesn’t set these students up to fail.

Labor has not prioritised the support which Indigenous students need to succeed at school, like those attending Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, which is fundamental to success at university. That needs to urgently change.

The Opposition welcomes the government’s commitment to double the 34 study hubs delivered by the Coalition. The Coalition delivered the Regional University Centre model as a proven and highly effective way to provide regional and remote students with access to higher education. However, the Government’s decision to provide 14 hubs in metropolitan suburbs is questionable, given these centres are designed to enable students to access tertiary education services, not save them a train ride into town.

We are very concerned about the government’s decision to reverse the Coalition’s 50 per cent pass rule, which was designed to protect students not punish them. We do not want to see more students burdened by massive HECS debts they will not be able to repay.

The Coalition is prepared to work constructively with the government to support meaningful reform in the higher education sector to deliver better student outcomes and experience, but the government’s current approach leaves a lot to be desired. The government needs to demonstrate a real appetite for reform not tinker at the edges.

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