Release type: Media Release


Coalition out of step with needs of Australia's universities


Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations

The Coalition’s decision to oppose the abolition of the Nelson-era Student Learning Entitlement shows just how out of step it is with the future needs of Australia’s universities.

Minister for Tertiary Education, Senator Chris Evans, said the Student Learning Entitlement is a discredited rule from 2003 that ties universities up in red tape and trips up genuine students who have done nothing wrong.

The rule currently limits a person’s ability to study at university to seven years of full-time study, subject to a complicated series of exceptions which allow for extra time to be granted in a range of different circumstances.

Legislation currently before the Parliament will cut through this unnecessary and ineffectual piece of red tape and makes it easier and simpler for all Australians to access higher education, including those who wish to return to study later in life to learn new skills.

The Government’s decision to cut through this piece of red tape has been warmly received.

Universities Australia said:

“Universities Australia… encourages all members of Parliament to support this legislation. This includes the abolition of Student Learning Entitlement arrangements. Universities wish to see this costly regulatory restriction removed, given that it applies to a very small number of students.”

The Group of Eight said:

“Whenever there is a chance to cut red tape it should be taken. Regulations should only be imposed when there is a demonstrable need for them… Australia does not have a systemic problem of excessively long study periods that is found in some other countries.

As the Gillard Government moves to remove limits on student access to higher education it is sensible to reduce the regulatory burden associated with the former capped system. The SLE is a very complex mechanism. Its removal would reduce administrative costs.”

The Australian Technology Network of Universities said:

“Abolition of the learning entitlement would mean less red tape for the sector – as it is administratively complex to implement – and ensure resources could be better directed toward teaching and learning.”

The Innovative Research Universities said:

“The [Student Learning Entitlement] provisions require complex, costly administrative systems and procedures by universities in order to restrain a very small number of individuals who reach their limit without good educational reason. The costs of the provisions far out-weigh the savings gained.”

The National Union of Students said:

“There [has] been universal recognition in the higher education sector that the policy is a blunt instrument that has failed to achieve its objective and has harmed students.

“It is disappointing to see the Coalition blindly opposing the abolition of a bad Policy. Students don’t like it, universities don’t like it, and even members of the Coalition front bench have recognized that it is not effective.”

The Australian Medical Students Association said:

“The length and cost of a medical degree means that medical students have been adversely and disproportionately affected by this scheme and the Government should be congratulated for introducing the proposed changes.

Students often begin another degree before deciding on a career in medicine, but anarbitrary 7-year limit means these students will run out of SLE prior to finishing their medical course. When so much time and money is invested into training doctors, it is a complete waste of resources to abandon these students part-way through their degrees.”

The National Tertiary Education Union said:

“The only possible motivation to oppose the Government’s proposal to abolish the Student Learning Entitlement… is crude opposition for opposition’s sake. It is bad public policy on any number of levels.”

When it comes to higher education, the Coalition is more backwards-looking today than they were in 2006, when former Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, described the Student Learning Entitlement as ‘red tape’ and indicated that the Howard Government was considering its abolition.

“Turning to the ubiquitous issue of government red tape – I am happy to listen to sensible suggestions as to how I can remove impediments to diversity and increase flexibility. As a result of the AVCC’s report on red tape, I have agreed to consider the abolition of the Student Learning Entitlement which measures a student’s consumption of commonwealth supported education.”– Julie Bishop MP, Speech to Curtin Institute for Public Policy, July 2006

Figures collected by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations show that fewer than 0.2% of students currently undertaking higher education are at risk of exceeding their entitlement – yet the bureaucracy required to administer this system is immense.

“It’s not too late for the Coalition to read the writing on the wall and support the Government’s decision to abolish this unnecessary and ineffectual piece of red tape,” Senator Evans said.