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Higher ed bill explainer: what will pass and what will be blocked

Written by Tim Pitman for The Conversation

The much-awaited higher education reform bill has now been introduced to parliament. If passed, it will result in the most significant changes to the Australian higher education system since the Dawkins reforms a quarter of a century ago. However, it is unlikely to make it through the Senate in its current form.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has as much as accepted this. He is prepared for a marathon, not a sprint, suggesting it might take until November before the Senate decides the fate of the bill.

Each of the following elements of the bill will be debated at length and will either pass unchanged, be amended or be rejected entirely.

Student fee deregulation

This is the most significant of all the changes. In Schedule 1 of the bill, the government seeks to deregulate fees for domestic Commonwealth supported students by removing the current maximum student contribution amounts. Put simply, this will allow universities to charge student fees at whatever level they deem appropriate.

Many have speculated on how high fees might go. Really, we don’t know. However, analysts generally believe fees will rise for most students.

The sector is divided in its support with some for and some against fee deregulation. Given a primary goal of this reform is to increase competition between universities, it’s a safe bet those universities that support fee deregulation think they will be winners. And vice versa. However, the consensus position of the sector is to support fee deregulation with moderation of the subsidy cuts and loan indexation (see below).

Labor and the Greens strongly oppose fee deregulation. The Palmer United Party is also opposed, though the government believes it can negotiate with PUP members. The Senate could allow fee deregulation to occur, but with compromises in other areas.

This part of the reforms is crucial for the government’s vision of a more competitive sector. It is hard to see the government giving this up. Equally, however, its centrality to the Coalition’s policy agenda means the government is likely to be willing to allow substantial compromises elsewhere to see this part through.

Verdict: Likely to pass in some form.

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Posted 1 September 2014 Posted in Editorial, General