CANBERRA -- The Federal Opposition has urged the Turnbull Government to give up on controversial higher education reforms and completely dump "alive and well" plans to deregulate university fees.
But Universities Australia, which backed the government’s deregulation plans, has declared the funding quality education debate can now be “reset.”
Earlier on Thursday, Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced the twice rejected university deregulation plan is being shelved for this term of government.
He told a conference in Melbourne that legislation to uncap university fees won’t be introduced this year and any changes to higher education funding will be delayed until at least 2017.
The higher education bill, which would allow universities to set their own fees, had been rejected by a hostile Senate twice and the Federal Opposition says the government has today done nothing more than admit it has run out of time.
“It seems to me on the basis of what the Minister has actually said today, that the $100,000 degrees are alive and well, with Mr Turnbull, as they were with Mr Abbott,” Labor’s Higher education spokesman Kim Carr told reporters in Adelaide.
“Mr Pyne's package continues in all its glory.”
The move delays a planned 20 percent funding cut to higher education. The funding in 2016 will be the same at 2015, indexed for inflation.
The new Education Minister says he will consult further on reforms.
"Any future reforms, should they be legislated, would not commence until 2017 at the earliest,” Birmingham said.
“I invite ideas and conversations about how to achieve equity and excellence in higher education, while honestly recognising the financial limitations of taxpayers.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is disappointed his plans won’t see the light of day in 2015.
"Ahh, it's an interesting one,” he told Melbourne radio 3AW.
“Given the realities of the situation in the Senate, I can understand it, but I am disappointed by it.”
But Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson, who backed the government’s deregulation plans, said it is a chance to “reset the debate” on long-term, sustainable funding for quality education in Australia.
“The reality it is unlikely, if not impossible, to get through the Senate in its current form,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“(But) there has been no indication they are going to retreat from that bill.”
“Certainly, the indications are that whatever reforms go through, it will not be implemented until 2017.”
The Education Minister will now consult with the sector, students, Senate colleagues and other stakeholders to find what he calls a ”sustainable way forward for higher education.”
“I think the announcement by the Minister is a very strong indication of the government’s preparedness to go back to first principles,” Robinson said.
“At this stage, the indications are that there are no option on the table and there are no options off the table.”
The National Union of Students is pleased the plans are on hold, saying the shelving shows it has been a “confused” and “botched policy” which has been “blocked at every single junction”.
But NUS National President, Rose Steele, has told HuffPost AU that she is certain the legislation will return, possibly before the next election.
“We know this has been a really core policy for the government. We are concerned that they could be bringing it back at any time,” she said.
The NUS is keen to take part in the Minister’s consultations, as according to Steele, "we really have been kept out of the conversation for too long".
But, she draws a line at allowing unis to cap their own fees.
"Deregulation needs to be chucked out, once and for all, and just scrapped," she said.