Universities set to lose $1.2b in funding under Turnbull government changes


Universities would be hit with $1.2 billion in funding cuts under the Turnbull government’s higher education changes, with new data showing some institutions are set to lose up to $57 million over the next four years.

The figures, compiled by peak body Universities Australia, provide the first breakdown of how each university in the country would be affected over the budget forward estimates if the government’s proposals pass the Senate.

NSW universities would lose $341 million in base funding between 2018 and 2021 while Victorian universities would lose $294 million.

The cuts would hit universities already in deficit and those with large numbers of disadvantaged students as well as the elite sandstone universities in Sydney and Melbourne.

The fate of the changes is hanging in the balance as Parliament resumes this week, with the Nick Xenophon Team yet to outline its position.

The government’s higher education package – announced in May and almost immediately overshadowed by the “Gonski 2.0” school funding changes – would apply a new “efficiency dividend” to universities, increase student fees by 7.5 per cent and slash the HECS repayment threshold from $55,874 to $42,000.

Monash University would receive the biggest funding hit in the country according to the figures, which have been provided to a Senate committee scrutinising the government’s proposals.

Monash would be $57.4 million worse off over four years than under the current policy settings, while the University of Melbourne would lose $46.5 million.

Victoria University, which has been in deficit for four of the past five years, would have its funding reduced by $22 million.

Western Sydney University, which caters to many low socio-economic status and “first in family” university students, would be $54.1 million worse off over four years, the biggest reduction of any university in NSW.

The University of Sydney would be $51.7 million worse off and UNSW would lose $47.4 million.

The Australian National University would lose $14 million over four years and the University of Canberra $15 million.

“A billion-dollar cut to universities is at the heart of the higher education legislation,” Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.

“As our economy changes and old industries face new threats, Australia needs to keep – not cut – our investment in universities to create new jobs, new industries and new sources of income for Australia.

“And funding cuts that erode quality risk undermining the $24 billion in export earnings that our universities help to bring into Australia by educating international students.”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said university funding would continue to grow under the government’s changes, but at a slower pace.

“Taxpayer funding for universities has been a river of gold, growing at twice the rate of the economy since 2009,” he said.

“Our reforms still see university teaching revenue grow by a further 23 per cent over the next four years and will ensure the ongoing viability of generous higher education funding and access.

“While universities enjoy significant autonomy, taxpayers also expect their investment is being used as efficiently as possible.”

The government estimates university funding – based on government and student contributions – will be $18,555 per student in 2020, down from $19,334 this year.

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said: “No university in Australia will escape the Liberals’ unfair cuts.

“While Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals are giving tax breaks to big businesses and millionaires, they want want to cut uni funding, jack up student fees, and have lower income earners pay back HELP debts sooner.

“Their priorities are all wrong.”

The elite Group of Eight universities have slammed the government’s package as a “contradictory, incoherent mess” that would make students pay more for an inferior education.

Labor and the Greens have announced they will vote against the government’s changes, meaning Senator Birmingham will have to win the support of 10 of the 12 Senate crossbenchers to pass them into law.

Fairfax Media has reported the government is prepared to significantly water down its plans if necessary to get some of the $2.8 billion in higher education savings through the Senate.

Victorian university funding cuts 2018-2021*

  • Monash University $57.4m
  • Deakin University $50.3m
  • University of Melbourne $46.5m
  • RMIT $44.3 m
  • La Trobe University $36.8 m
  • Swinburne University of Technology $26.8m
  • Victoria University $22m
  • Federation University $9.9m
  • Total = $294m

*Source: Universities Australia

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