I thought I’d summarise some of the major announcements from last night’s Federal Government budget and how these may impact on USQ and the higher education sector generally.
- We have some certainty around our continued funding for 2016-17 with the government delaying introducing any major changes to higher education a further year to 1 January 2018. Instead a major discussion paper and has been released for the sector to respond to by late July 2016. Overall, university funding will increase 0.9 per cent to $12.3 billion across the sector.
- The (on average 20%) cut to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme is also withdrawn (but not dropped) for 12 months “to give universities certainty for the year”.
- A major announcement is the deferral of the higher education reforms until 2018, and the abandonment of full fee deregulation although the government has left the door open for universities to out forward “flagship” programs where higher fees may be charged. For a flagship program to go ahead each university will need to establish a business case that considers among other things, quality, and demand and operating costs of the program.
- The option paper will also explore ways to increase the student contribution towards a greater share of university charges.
- The government’s efficiency dividend that would have cost USQ more than $3 million has been withdrawn.
- There has been a reduction in funding to the Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Program (HEPPP) which will have some impact on USQ and our communities. The reduction in funding over four years from the program is large – at USQ we will lose $1.5 million however we will assess how we can use what funding we receive more effectively so that we can continue to give all students the opportunity to take up a university qualification. A structural adjustment fund for regional and outer metropolitan universities is still on the table to assist in any transition to new arrangements. HEPPP is designed to increase and support the participation in higher education of students from low SES backgrounds at university.
- ]Funding for research remains almost the same although the Australian Research Council takes a small cut of $5.3 million over the next four years, as the Future Fellowships end, the National Health and Medical Research Council is not affected.
- The Office of Learning and Teaching will close but funding will go to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (an extra $10 million) and the Quality Indicators for Leaning and Teaching student information website ($8.1million). The Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Programme loses around a third of its previous funding being cut by $40 million a year over the forward estimates.
- The Government will achieve savings over four years by adjusting funding for the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program.
- An additional $10.1 million over four years will enable the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to respond to increases in provider registrations and course accreditations and to better meet the needs of the university sector.
- The Government will provide $12 million over four years from 2016‑17 to support the implementation of the National Strategy for International Education.
- The government’s discussion paper also raises the notion of an infrastructure fund or loan facility to assist infrastructure transformation in regional and outer metro universities.
All in all it’s quite a mild budget for the sector and at USQ we’ll be keen to work closely with the Government to work though their options’ package. Most importantly however the deferment of new reforms to 2018 will give universities time to consult with government on a broad range of proposed issues.
Clearly the Government has taken a pragmatic approach to its funding responsibilities in both research and teaching in an election year. I will continue to advocate strongly to achieve the best outcomes for our students, our communities and our regions. USQ will persist in taking a leading role as a regional university in driving the future of higher education in Australia.
Professor Jan Thomas
USQ Vice-Chancellor and President