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Speech: No charges on tertiary education

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 3 Aug 2021

I speak to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021 and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021. I will state at the outset that the Greens will not be supporting these bills that impose yet another charge on higher education providers. Since the coalition have been in power, they have been on a relentless mission to attack the higher education sector. The bills establish a new charge to make registered higher education providers bear the costs of TEQSA risk monitoring and regulatory oversight activities. These include: concern management and resolution; stakeholder communications and engagement; risk assessment inquiries; business support; and guidance notes. These activities do not currently attract a charge and they should not attract a charge. TEQSA has an important oversight role when it comes to monitoring the higher education sector and should absolutely be fully funded to perform its vital functions, but this funding should continue to come from the Commonwealth.

The two proposed bills represent a really worrying continuation in this government's larger pattern of defunding the higher education sector and then shifting the costs of providing higher education away from the Commonwealth. Education is a public good and it should be fully publicly funded. Universities and other higher education providers are still reeling from not just round after round of funding cuts but also the huge impact the pandemic has had on the sector. The government refused to help the struggling higher education sector, deliberately changing the JobKeeper rules three times to exclude universities and denying them any further form of substantial support. This has led to tens of thousands of university staff losing their jobs. On top of that, the government pushed through with their so-called job-ready graduates legislation, which has condemned students, young people, to decades of debt. It has also condemned universities to less funding. It has condemned researchers to go without. It has condemned us to exactly the opposite of what we need at the moment, which is to fully fund our universities and to look after and care for our young people, academic staff and researchers.

Shifting the costs of TEQSA's monitoring and regulatory functions to higher education providers is not only wrong in principle; it will also overburden a sector already in strife on so many fronts. This is part of an ongoing pattern of the Commonwealth shirking its responsibility to fund the delivery and administration of higher education. This is clearly the kind of self-defeating public policy that we should all be voting against.

Shifting more costs to higher education providers has another worrying consequence: the charges will impact on the quality of education that students receive. This has been raised time and again by student groups who have provided submissions on other costs and charges bills. As the University of Sydney stated in their submission on the charges and cost-recovery proposals: every dollar that Australia's public universities and other not-for-profit higher education providers must spend on regulation and compliance is a dollar that they cannot invest directly in their core education or research activities.

It is our collective responsibility to fight back against every bit of funding taken away from higher education. And we should not stop at that but also build a movement for free TAFE and university. That would make higher education accessible to all without the heavy burden of years of debt.

If the Liberals have their way, universities will be funded only to the extent they are able to contribute to the profit driven economy that benefits the elite, the billionaires and the corporations and contributes to obscene accumulation of wealth by the few. Although the Liberals being hell-bent on bleeding the higher education sector to death does not surprise me, it saddens me to say that both the Liberal and Labor parties have treated universities and TAFEs as piggy banks that can be used on a whim to draw funds away. Pro-market, neo-liberal policies have treated universities and TAFEs as corporations and not as the social institutions they are that contribute immensely to our society. It is clearly impossible to defend public education without a fundamental break from this problematic view.

It is a nice surprise today to see that Labor will not be supporting these bills that impose yet another levy on a sector that is already reeling from the pandemic and many other funding cuts. The Greens want to make university and TAFE fully funded and free for all. We have a vision for universities and TAFEs to be spaces of learning and creativity that serve a central role in communities across the country as forces of good.

I will be asking my colleague, Senator Nick McKim, to move a second reading amendment calling on the Morrison government to fully publicly fund higher education, because what we should be looking at is how we can guarantee lifelong learning to all Australians in these challenging times, and that means free higher education for all, increasing funding per student so staff can provide the best learning and teaching environment, supporting students by guaranteeing livable income for each and every one, and providing job security to academics, researchers and staff. Yet, sadly, here we are with the Liberals cutting much needed funds from universities at a time of such uncertainty where we are just emerging—I would say we are not even emerging at this point; I'm in New South Wales and people are suffering—from the global pandemic and millions of others across Australia are suffering as well. The nature of work is changing and the future of many jobs is precarious at best, and at this time to cut further funding from higher education is truly disgraceful. The Greens will oppose these bills, and, as I said earlier, my colleague Senator McKim will be moving a second reading amendment which highlights this worrying pattern of defunding higher education and reaffirming it as a public good which should be publicly funded.

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