University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas has cautiously accepted changes to higher education in the Federal Governmentâ€™s 2014-15 budget handed down last night (May 13).
Speaking from Canberra, Professor Thomas said the budget brought with it a number of challenges balanced with changes that could open up more study opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and low socio-economic regions.
Professor Thomas said while a clearer picture of the higher education landscape will become known over coming days, this budget will see students paying more for their education, the prospect for universities to compete more openly with their course cost structures, and the current demand driven enrolment system continued.
Professor Thomas said she was guarded about the Governmentâ€™s decision to deregulate student fees from 2016. â€œThis is a decision that should be met with close collaboration and input from the higher education sector to ensure the outcomes donâ€™t discourage student enrolment or reduce Government support for universities,â€ she said.
Professor Thomas welcomed the Governmentâ€™s decision to retain the demand driven university system. â€œSince the Government lifted its quota system on university enrolments many first in family and people from low socio-economic regions have been enabled to attend tertiary education,â€ she said.
However, Professor Thomas was concerned about Government initiatives that may discourage potential students. â€œWe must continue to support future students who may struggle to enter the university system without support,â€ she said. â€œCreating obstacles, such as pressure to increase fees and a higher student contribution to HECS-debt, has the risk of forcing out a number of vulnerable students more than capable of completing a university education.â€
Professor Thomas called on the Federal Government to invest in higher education in regional Australia following changes to assistance schemes. â€œWith initiatives like â€˜earn or learnâ€™ and raising the eligibility criteria of youth assistance programs, regional Australia will be impacted by forcing residents to move to larger centres for employment opportunities,â€ she said.
Dr Aidan Burke,
USQ Corporate Communications,