Release type: Speech


Release of the Base Funding Review, Parliament House, Canberra


Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations
Leader of the Government in the Senate

 **Check against delivery**

Dr Jane Lomax-Smith, Chair of the Base Funding Review Panel

Professor Louise Watson, Member of the Panel

Dr Glenn Withers, CEO of Universities Australia

Ms Belinda Robinson, incoming CEO of Universities Australia

Thank you all for joining us.

I am very pleased today to release the final report of the Base Funding Review.

Today is another step that the Government is taking towards ensuring a stronger and more sustainable higher education funding system.

I would like to thank Dr Jane Lomax-Smith and the panel, for their hard work in preparing this report. 

The panel consulted widely with the higher education and the broader tertiary sector and received a lot of detailed information and analysis from experts in the field.

I’m sure that when you read the report you will appreciate the significant effort that has gone into its production.

I understand from Jane that the report is the product of robust discussions by the panel and that it was difficult to agree on everything.

I’m sure that as we release this report publicly, there will be a similar response in the sector and we can expect a vibrant debate in the months ahead.

One thing that I have learned as Minister for Tertiary Education is that if everyone in the sector agrees on something, then I am probably paying for it.

The Australian Government agreed to undertake the Review of Higher Education Base Funding in response to the Bradley Review of Higher Education.

It’s worth looking back on what has been achieved so far.

This year the arrangements for the new demand driven funding system passed through Parliament. 

The Government has invested heavily in funding new student places so that by 2025, 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-old Australians have a bachelor or higher degree.

The Government has continued with its program of investment in university infrastructure, providing more than $4.5 billion from the Education Investment Fund from 2009.

As I travel from one university campus to another, I have been very impressed with the new modern facilities that universities are constructing to ensure that their students get the best possible learning experience.

Anyone who has been to see the new Student Hub at the University of Adelaide would see how much of a difference that has made to the student experience there.

New indexation arrangements for higher education funding programs will be fully implemented from 2012 – something that will deliver universities an additional $3.15 billion in revenue in the five years to 2015.

This year also, the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency has been established. 

TEQSA will assure the continued quality of Australian higher education in a demand driven system.

It’s an important part of our reforms to ensure that growth in the system is underpinned by good quality assurance mechanisms – and can I pay tribute to the constructive role that Universities Australia played in securing that important reform.

The Government has successfully passed student services and amenities legislation through Parliament. 

This will bring revenue to support campus life—ending the need for universities to divert teaching and learning funds for this purpose.

In setting the terms of reference for the Base Funding Review, the Government asked the Panel to establish enduring principles to underpin public investment in Australian higher education and to ensure its international competitiveness.

I am particularly pleased to note the Review’s finding that the quality of Australian higher education is good and of an internationally competitive standard. 

This does not mean we should ignore areas where we can make further improvements. However, it does give an assurance to all students at Australian universities that they are receiving a quality education.

In the demand driven system it is now up to each university to position itself in the market to be attractive to students in areas that they want to study in.

In many cases, that will require universities to lift their standards of teaching and improve the quality of what they are offering students.

The report has recommended that the Government endorse a number of principles which should underpin the Australian Government’s funding of higher education into the future.

These include that the base funding model should be simple and transparent, that it should reflect the relative costs for different disciplines or modes of teaching and that base funding should enable institutions to pursue innovative methods of teaching and learning.

The report also makes a series of 29 more detailed recommendations. 

I particularly welcome the report’s recommendations with respect to ensuring that more students who commence university study are better supported to complete their studies.

A focus on retention and completion will be key to ensuring both that the Government gets better value for its investment in higher education, but also that students are not leaving their studies early having incurred HECS debts which may take some time to pay back.

Given the scope and complexity of the issues involved, I want to give universities, students and other stakeholders the opportunity to have their say on the principles and recommendations.

To take the conversation forward, the Government will hold consultations with major stakeholders during February and March 2012. 

The Government intends to consider its response to the Review following the consultations and expects to commence its response in the course of 2012.

I’m sure that you are all familiar now with my trademark reminder that the Government’s response will necessarily take account of the current fiscal environment and budget constraints. 

As I have previously made clear, expectations of new funding must be tempered, given the significant additional revenue streams that are now flowing to universities following the Government’s response to the Bradley Review.

Once again, may I commend Jane and the panel for their hard work over the past year.

It’s a very readable report and I am sure that you will all study it forensically.

I would like now to hand over to Jane and let her say a few words about the Review’s findings and its proposed principles and recommendations.