Freeze hands university a $69 million bill: Labor

FUNDING changes will cost the University of Newcastle $69 million between now and 2021, according to Labor modelling. 

Federal Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said the Hunter education provider’s losses were part of $736 million the party estimates will be torn out of NSW universities. 

The modelling was based on Department of Education and Training data. 

The University of Newcastle has pledged not to let the federal government freeze impinge on its student places. Beyond that two-year halt, funding will come from meeting “performance targets” with a cap matching the growth rate of the working age population.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said in December that the new approach would encourage universities to improve retention rates and boost graduate employment outcomes.

Ms Claydon said the university’s commitment to students was admirable but said the changed funding system was simply creating new concerns for the sector. 

“You can’t rip tens of millions of dollars out of a regional university without hurting students and the broader region,” Ms Claydon said.

“Students will also be hit by a drop in the salary at which they need to start repaying their HECS/HELP debt which has been slashed from $55,000 to $45,000.”

Comment has been sought from the University of Newcastle. 

Mr Birmingham said it was “important to inject some facts amidst the scaremongering”. 

“Per student funding from the federal government last year was at a record $11,637,” he said. “In real terms that’s well above levels in previous years when all our universities were running surpluses.

“Total federal funding has grown as universities seized the opportunity to write their own cheques by rapidly increasing student numbers with no constraints. 

“The Turnbull government’s plan to freeze just one stream of university funding for two years still means universities can enrol more students by making use of that 15 per cent teaching funding they appear to have been diverting.

“There is no reason that universities could not tap into that funding and grow enrolments in courses they see as having strong employment outcomes.

“Universities should be asking themselves what their spending priorities are if not to use the record funding we’ve been providing to best support their students.

“With $50 billion in outstanding taxpayer-funded student loans sitting on the government’s books and around a quarter of that not expected to be repaid, we also think it’s reasonable that people start repaying those loans when they start earning $45,000 at a rate of just one per cent.

“That’s less than $9 a week and it will help reduce the growing burden of unpaid student loans on taxpayers.”