Local, Independant and Effective

Hansard Transcript - Question Without Notice - Minister for Education Christopher Pyne

Posted June 20, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (14:17): My question is to the Minister for Education. Minister, you have stated that deregulation of higher education will not necessarily lead to higher fees. If regional universities are not in a position to increase fees, I am concerned that this will mean they will not be obliged to offer new Commonwealth scholarships, which are funded from increased fees. Minister, would you please consider pooling the scholarship funds and redistributing to all students on a needs basis?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House and Minister for Education) (14:18): I thank the member for Indi for her question. I had the pleasure this morning of hosting her and the Highwater Theatre students from her electorate—

Mr Conroy interjecting—

Mr PYNE: You have no class at all, do you? That is the problem—none whatsoever. I was actually talking about—

Mr Mitchell interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for McEwen!

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Charlton will remove himself under 94(a), for one hour. The member for Charlton then left the chamber.

Mr PYNE: If the member for McEwen had cared to wait and hear the answer, I was actually talking about theatre students from non-mainstream schooling who have been hurt by trauma and abuse and are finding their way back into higher education through the arts, in the member for Indi's electorate. If he had cared to be a little bit better mannered, he would have heard that that is what I was talking about. But unfortunately I expect very little from the member for McEwen.

To answer the member for Indi's question, I know that she cares very deeply about education, as the transformative nature of it can help kids like the ones from Highwater Theatre, but also young people across Australia, particularly in rural and regional areas, lift their qualifications and their opportunity to get better jobs and earn more income.

In terms of the deregulation of fees, the tremendous opportunity presented by our reforms is to let universities make their own decisions about what they value the most in their institutions and what they believe they can charge higher fees for and also, in regional and rural areas, how to price their  courses in order to compete with the institutions in the city.

The great thing about the Commonwealth scholarships fund is that each university will get the opportunity to make its own decisions about how to attract students through scholarships. So in a rural and regional area —as many of the coalition members who represent rural and regional areas would also be interested to know—they will be able to tailor their scholarships to what they think will most attract students, whether they are from the local area or whether they are from the city, to regional areas.

They might decide to forgo tuition fees for those students. They might decide to help them with living expenses in order to move to rural and regional areas. They might decide to pay them relocation expenses. The reason why each institution will make its own decisions about fees and how to spend its Commonwealth scholarships, within the guidelines that the Commonwealth will develop through our working groups, is so that they can compete with suburban institutions. I see great opportunities for rural and regional institutions in our reforms.

I would also point out to the member that there have been some excellent articles written about this by rural and regional vice-chancellors or former vicechancellors like Jim Barber, from the member for New England's electorate. He was the former Vice- Chancellor at UNE. In the Australian Financial Review just after the budget, he pointed out the opportunities that deregulation presented to rural and regional areas, and I would recommend it to her.

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