| Education, Media Releases

The Senate has three choices not two: The Job-Ready Graduates Bill

The Senate has three choices not two.

The choice is not between the two bad options of the JRG package as presented or continuation of the frozen system imposed from 2018.

The Senate can do what it has done many times on many issues.  It can find a resolution that fixes the worst elements of the Government’s proposal, giving universities and their students a solid, sure base for the coming decade.

It is not a Manichean fight between light and dark. It is the standard everyday political challenge to find a plausible grey outcome with flecks of colour on the horizon.

Senators can attempt to skewer Vice-Chancellors and other university representatives as much as they wish in the current hearings.

The reality universities face is to work with a thrice elected Government that is determined to contain its investment in the university education needed for the coming decade.

Of course universities think the investment should be higher.  Yet we have to work with the continued decision of the electorate to return a Government committed to less funding and greater student payments.

The IRU has identified four major changes. The Group of Eight has proposed similar outcomes. Other university groups have proposed minor improvements. STA has a practical resolution for STEM funding.

Students now pay $11,355 for many courses.  The Labor Party accepts this. In six years in power it did nothing to alter the breadth or the top amount that students could pay. It targeted expansion in access and other improvements.  The IRU charges proposal and the position of the Go8 is to keep that level as the maximum. The Senate can force the Government to do that as part of its role to improve, not just block.

The Government wishes to improve STEM outcomes through less funding for STEM courses.  The argument is bizarre.  The Government provides little funding detail for its proposed programs – this should be clear before any vote. The legislation should be explicit about the basis on which future Ministers will set university by university funding amounts but the Government does not propose more Ministerial discretion than several previous systems.

These issues can be addressed if senators force the issue, not limit themselves to the persiflage that only one of two bad outcomes is possible.

The Senate Education and Employment Committee members have clearly read the IRU’s analysis, they cited it multiple times at the hearing yesterday. The IRU therefore calls on senators to use our options to improve and pass the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020.

See the IRU’s full submission to the Senate Inquiry (PDF)

| Funding, Media Releases, University Operations

Four things to fix in JRG legislation: IRU

Senators must fix four major weaknesses in the Job-Ready Graduates legislation before letting it pass through Parliament, the Innovative Research Universities (IRU) group has said.

In a written submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020, the IRU says it recognises the strengths of the Job-Ready Graduates (JRG) package but calls for amendments to be made to address four key areas, outlined below.

Rejecting the Bill outright will not be a positive outcome for Australia’s higher education sector. The current university funding system cannot continue.

However, the IRU has consistently called for Parliament to amend the Bill before it is passed.

It has put forward detailed proposals to improve various aspects of the reforms, published at iru.edu.au/JRG.

Four major weaknesses to be fixed:

1. The JRG reduces revenue per student for universities.

The Government will save 15% of its funding, with students paying 7% more.

Unless Parliament amends the Bill, total revenue for most disciplines the Government wishes to grow, such as engineering, nursing and agriculture, will decrease.

Conversely, revenue for disciplines the Government considers less important such as law, business and humanities, will be increased.

  • Total revenue per student in engineering and science will decrease by $4,798.
  • Total revenue per student in nursing will decrease by $1,729.
  • Total revenue per student in agriculture will decrease by $3,444.

The IRU solution is to rework the funding and charges in the new JRG groups of disciplines to ensure that universities do not receive less funding on average per student than currently.

2. Student charges will increase from a two-fold difference (lowest to highest) to a historic fourfold difference.

Through the JRG changes, the Government seeks to reward students for choosing certain careers – however, previous attempts to predict long-term workforce needs have failed.

The proposed new lower and higher rates are not necessary. They have the potential to punish people for pursuing their career interests.

Instead, the IRU solution is to maintain an approximate two-fold spread, that supports all students pursuing their considered preference, the best-known guide to setting the needed workforce skills for the future.

This change can be done independently of any increase to total university revenue to address the first weakness.

3. JRG does not allocate enough growth places to meet the Covid-19 jump in demand.

The planned growth for university education only just covers population growth in the younger cohort for the coming years but will fall well short by the end of the decade.

The IRU solution is that the Government provides an additional 10,000 National Priority places to meet the Covid-19 jump in demand for university education and the demand from the older student cohort needing to reskill for the future workforce.

4. The new accountability measures outlined in Schedule 4 of the Bill are micro regulation contrary to the Government’s commitment to reduce red tape.

There is no evidence that the Commonwealth requires the additional powers to ensure universities act responsibly.

The proposed provisions would insert a hard rule onto the complex set of individual circumstances, rather than let universities and other higher education providers work with their students.

The 50% required pass rate measure would have the harshest impact on groups of students who take some time adjusting to university life, including Indigenous students, students from rural and regional areas and students with disabilities.

The only additional power required is for the Secretary of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to be able to determine that a student is not genuine and hence not eligible for further Commonwealth support.

See the IRU’s full submission to the Senate Inquiry (PDF)