The announcements in the budget reflect significant changes to higher education policy in Australia. Curtin, like all other universities in Australia, will be carefully working through the details in order to fully understand the implications of the new policy parameters. We will need to respond in a way that ensures our future success and is compatible with our distinctive strengths, our mission, and our values. Ensuring we continue to support a diverse student body and deliver high quality research outcomes will be essential.
The key points in the budget relating to the university sector are summarised below:
Demand-driven system expansion
From 2016, the Government will make financial contributions for all students enrolled at TEQSA-registered institutions including non-university higher education providers. Commonwealth funding will be expanded to include sub-bachelor degrees: diplomas, advanced diplomas and associated degrees.
Funding changes for domestic university students
The Commonwealth contribution will drop by an average of 20 per cent. The threshold for HELP repayments will reduce to $50,638 from July 2016. The annual indexation rate applied to HELP debts will increase to reflect Government borrowings (maximum rate of six per cent). From 2016, universities will be able to set their own tuition fees for courses. Higher education providers will be required to direct 20 per cent of additional revenue to Commonwealth scholarships for disadvantaged students. Funding from the Research Training Scheme will be reduced and universities will have the capacity to charge HDR students a fee (this will be able to be deferred as a HELP loan or covered by a university scholarship).
Changes to research funding
The Future Fellowships scheme will continue: $139.5 million over four years; up to 100 four-year Fellowships. Additional funding has been allocated to National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS): $150 million in 2015-16. Funding for Cooperative Research Centres to be reduced by $80 million and Round 17 will not proceed. Australian Research Council will be subject to an efficiency dividend of 3.25 per cent in 2015-16. $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund to be established from health reform savings; net earnings will serve as a permanent revenue stream, primarily to the NHMRC There will be reduced funding for CSIRO ($11.4m), Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation ($27.6m) and Australian Institute of Marine Science ($7.8m).
TEQSA to focus on core regulator activities with $31.1 million budget reduction over four years. All funding to universities (and to the Australian Research Council) will be indexed by CPI rather than the Higher Education Grants Index. Access and Participation Fund to retain $582.7 million over four years consolidated from Participation and Partnerships and HEPPP.