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Senate committee report backs uni fee reform but members slam it

A senate committee report has recommended the government’s job-ready graduates bill be passed with the contingency that it is reviewed after two years. 

The committee’s chair, Liberal senator James McGrath, wrote that the bill will “deliver policy and funding certainty for the sector”. 

But Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi said the report “does not fairly convey the level of dissent to the bill heard by the committee”.  

“It fails to acknowledge key organisations do not support the bill or would only support it with enormous amendments,” Faruqi said. 

She called on crossbenchers to “fully consider the awful impacts of this austerity package for students, staff, universities and the communities they serve”. 

In the report, Labor senators called the reforms “an act of economic and cultural vandalism”. 

They held that the bill would deliver “less money, not more, for ‘job ready’ courses, creating a clear disincentive for universities to expand enrolments in the very areas the government says are a priority”. 

The Labor senators also expressed concern that the changes would create further distress for year 11 and 12 students after an already difficult year, undermine the quality of university teaching and have a significantly worse impact on women and First Nations people.  

They believe it to be so deeply flawed that it cannot be repaired with amendments.  

Hundreds recently marched across the University of Sydney to protest the planned reforms. A second protest took place at the University of Wollongong. 

USyd’s Student Representative Council president Liam Donohoe told NCA NewsWire that there would be more protests until the bill is squashed.  

“We’re going to continue fighting until we win, and even if we lose, we’ll probably still be fighting,” Donohoe said. 

McGrath said the committee was aware of mixed views on the accuracy of the modelling behind predicted increases in university places, the effectiveness of price signals in incentivising student choice, the impact on disadvantaged groups, and the impact on university research and STEM teaching, among other concerns.  

"But based on the information presented, the committee is satisfied that the proposed changes are appropriate and would help to equip students with the skills and experience needed to succeed in a difficult labour market,” he added. 

In the senate committee’s report, South Australian crossbench senator Rex Patrick gave perhaps the most scathing review of the bill, calling it a “crude and blunt” instrument that will likely “do much harm to the interests of students and universities at a time when the tertiary education sector is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic".

“This bill cannot be salvaged,” Patrick said. “Anyone who thinks so is kidding themselves, or worse, being quite disingenuous.  

“It’s not the case of Minister Tehan sitting the exam again, he’s got to go back and repeat the course.” 

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