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University sector calls for Labor’s shambolic student support scheme to be put on hold

At a Senate hearing in Sydney today, the university sector called on the Albanese Government to put on hold its shambolic student support scheme.

The Education and Employment Legislation Committee is conducting an inquiry into the government’s Higher Education Support Amendment (Response to the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report) Bill 2023 (the Bill).

In embarrassing evidence for Education Minister, Jason Clare, higher education peak bodies including the Group of Eight, Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) and the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) submitted that the student support scheme included in the Bill should be put on hold until there was proper consultation.

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson said the government had failed to conduct any consultation before introducing the bill in the Parliament and had “…put the cart before the horse.”

“The Opposition is concerned that the proposed student scheme, which does not reference student safety or guarantee student refunds for poor quality courses, is policy on the run.  The Parliament is being asked to pass into law a scheme which hasn’t even been devised,” Senator Henderson said.

“Given there are more than 1.6 million tertiary students studying in Australia, higher education providers are rightly also concerned about the cost and complexity of tracking and identifying “at risk” students, which include fines for non-compliance, which would be triggered as soon as the Bill is passed,” Senator Henderson said.

ITECA’s Deputy Chief Executive Policy & Research, Felix Pirie, said that consultation on the Bill was non-existent and that an exposure draft of the Bill should have been released first.

“The Bill is a ham-fisted response from the Government to the University Accord’s interim report which is more concerned about headlines than substance.  For many months, the Opposition has been calling for greater accountability and transparency on the university sector but this Bill shows the Government hasn’t done its homework,” Senator Henderson said.

Today, the Opposition raised concerns about the lack of data to support the Government’s proposal to abolish the 50 per cent pass rule which protects students who fail more than 50 per cent of units studied from incurring massive student debt.

The Opposition is also seeking information about the independence of the Universities Accord process after Panel Chair, Professor Mary O’Kane, indicated the Department of Education was making many suggestions to the panel about its work reviewing the higher education sector.

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