Page 1967 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 14 May 2013

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The work is underway. I am very pleased that Mr Seselja brought this matter of public importance to the Assembly today, because tertiary education is important to the future of the ACT. I look forward to being the minister responsible for implementing the changes that I have just outlined.

MR DOSZPOT (Molonglo) (4.23): Mr Assistant Speaker, I thank Mr Seselja for bringing this matter of public importance to the attention of the Assembly today—the importance of the tertiary education sector to the ACT. Today, the day on which the last federal budget is delivered by this appalling Labor government, it is interesting to note that we have university students protesting on the lawns of Parliament House. They are protesting at what the federal Labor government is trying to do to education in this country and objecting to the cuts being made. University students are usually regarded as the disciples of the left—that is, of course, before they complete their education and realise it is the Liberal side of politics that delivers sound policy and jobs—so it is interesting that even they see this as bad policy. Because it is indeed bad policy and it is especially bad for Canberra.

Higher education is a significant part of the Australian economy. While there is no public data on the total financial size of the Australian higher education industry, the Grattan Institute in 2011 estimated that universities had revenue of $23.8 billion, and the higher education sector made up at least 1.7 per cent of the Australian economy. This figure does not include non-university higher education providers, who account for at least 5.4 per cent of all higher education students and generate revenues of at least $700 million. Over the last 20 years, higher education has become a significant export industry. Publicly funded universities earned around $4.1 billion from international students in 2011.

It is against this background that one has to wonder just how desperate or just how short-sighted the federal Labor government were in deciding to slash $2.3 billion from the higher education sector to help fund the implementation of the Gonski reforms. The federal tertiary education minister summed up the cuts as a $900 million saving through efficiency dividends, a further $1.2 billion from removing start-up scholarships and another $229 million by removing discounts for up-front HECS payments. Whether they thought anyone would notice or that the states would not care is anyone’s guess, but it was not long before the ACT tertiary education sector started to realise what it would mean for the ACT and started to raise serious concerns. It is a significant impost on the ACT economy.

According to the Good Universities Guide, the ACT’s student population is around 32,000. Of these, around 8,400 come from interstate and a further 8,000 are international students. In fact, this high percentage of overseas and interstate students makes the ACT unique. Given Canberra’s population is around 376,000, that shows students make up a fair percentage of this city’s population. There are good reasons why people from all around Australia and overseas want to study here. We have excellent institutions, quality courses with a wide range of courses on offer and graduates from our tertiary institutions are highly sought after. The Australian National University is ranked number one in the QS world university rankings and it is ranked second in the Times Higher Education world university rankings.

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