“The Government is determined to give opportunities for talented Australians to participate in higher education no matter what their background.” Reflecting the Government’s philosophy in schools, funding increases will be closely linked to performance measures to be overseen by a new regulator, while universities will be encouraged to enrol students from poor backgrounds by a new loading payment worth $325 million over four years.
In line with the Government’s focus on stimulating the economy, near-term money is to be spent on new infrastructure for universities and the vocational sector to the tune of $2.6 billion over four years with an emphasis on university and science projects. In a big win for the sector, a path has been laid for increasing recurrent funding for teaching through better indexation and moves to cover the indirect costs of research. But much of that money is back-ended towards the 2011-12 and 2012-13 years. That means for now universities will remain cash-strapped on recurrent funding and reliant on the international student market.
The Government says its plans are about “planting the seeds for future growth” once the economy recovers. The centrepiece of the higher education strategy is the removal of caps on student numbers from 2012 as Canberra plans to increase the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds with a degree or higher qualification from 32 per cent to 40 per cent by 2025. Canberra has allocated $491million to fund an expansion of 50,000 students and a further $402 million to help universities adapt to the new deregulated environment, in which universities will be able to target student numbers in line with demand.
A further $108 million will be allocated over four years to encourage universities to form closer partnerships with schools to build aspiration and pathways to raise the number of students from the poorest backgrounds. Students from the bottom 25 per cent of wealth postcodes are under-represented at universities and Education Minister Julia Gillard wants to raise the proportion of low socio-economic students at university from 16 per cent to 20per cent by 2020.
University research is also to be put on a more sustainable pathway towards fully covering the indirect costs of research, or money for equipment, salaries and administration that research grants don’t cover. The Government is to spend $512 million over four years to raise research block grants. But again, big money won’t start to flow until 2010-11.