A chance to get student amenities financing right

The government’s student amenities fee legislation has been rejected by the Senate.

While I did not support the original VSU bill, and am unpersuaded by the reasons given for rejecting the government’s legislation, I am pleased that it has been defeated.

Even by the low standards of Australian higher education policymaking, Kate Ellis’s student amenities financing plan was a shocker.

As I noted when it was introduced, it sought to impose new unfunded service obligations on universities – and this despite Labor cutting recurrent university funding in real terms in every year of its first term. While they have thrown money at capital projects, their policies on recurrent funding have been worse than the Coalition’s.

The bill would have required universities to make complex distinctions between similar services funded from their Commonwealth subsidies and from the new amenities fee.

The bill would have required universities to create an entirely new and completely unnecessary new student loan scheme, SA-HELP. Anyone who needs to borrow $250 for amenities will also need to borrow for tuition under HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP, and so these should be used for all loans. The SA-HELP alternative would have imposed bureaucratic costs on universities and created confusion for students.

In short, it is a relief that this bureaucratic monster has been strangled at birth.

While the government will probaby reintroduce the bill and hope that an Opposition terrified of an early election will pass it, the more sensible thing from them to do would be to refer it to the review they have promised on base funding levels for universities. Amenities fees are just one component of a much larger funding and pricing issue, and it would be sensible to deal with it all in a coherent fashion.
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