Government promises sustainability in higher education - Education Matters Magazine
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Government promises sustainability in higher education

Australia will ensure the costs of higher education are sustainable and keep a strong focus on students’ needs as part of changes announced on 18 December, says Minister for Education Simon Birmingham.

Mr Birmingham said Australia has some of the world’s leading higher education institutions, but the cost and quality of the system must be sustainable for future generations.

Higher education funding would remain at a record high, of at least $17 billion annually, he said.

“Since 2009, taxpayer funding for teaching and learning has increased by 71 per cent, twice the rate of growth in the economy,” Mr Birmingham said.

“This has been coupled by strong growth in student enrolments since the introduction of the demand driven funding system, with domestic undergraduate enrolments growing by 33 per cent between 2009 and 2016.

At the same time, six-year university completion rates had fallen from 67.2 per cent to 66 per cent and short-term employment outcomes dropped from 83.6 per cent to 70.9 per cent. Student debts continued to grow and up to one quarter of new student loans were not expected to be repaid.

Mr Birmingham said the rapid growth in costs had contributed to a budget deficit, which was why a slowing of further spending growth had been factored into every budget projection since 2014.

“Australia must face up to the task of putting our higher education costs on a more sustainable, responsible path for the future while also having a stronger focus on supporting students,” he said.

The effect of the planned changes is expected to grow direct funding to universities for teaching, learning and research from $10.7 billion in 2017 by 8 per cent to $11.5 billion in 2021, and taxpayer-backed student loans paid to universities from $6.4 billion to $7.4 billion, meaning a total funding increase of 11 per cent, if universities maintained their current enrolment patterns.