Message to staff and students from the Vice-Chancellor: federal budget update

28 August 2014

I am writing to thank those of you who attended Monday's Great Hall meeting on higher education funding. We heard from 26 people who represented a genuine cross-section of our community, including students, staff and alumni. Many expressed their deep concern about the impact of the federal government's proposals on higher education, including fee deregulation.

Since Monday I have been in Canberra, meeting with the Minister for Education and others. As I told ABC TV's Lateline on Tuesday evening, I believe the government is open to discussions on many of the elements in its proposals, including the affordability of the student loan scheme, and we will continue to lobby on our concerns as the legislation is scrutinised in parliament.

I have been mindful of two points in particular following Monday's town hall.

First, there was broad consensus in the Great Hall that the University of Sydney must do all it can to protect equity of access for promising students of all backgrounds. I was particularly influenced by some of our students who chose to share their stories, such as Georg Tamm and Caitlin Gardner. Both spoke about the challenges they had faced in getting to university, and their concerns about what the government proposals might mean for people like them in the future. As I have previously written, this is an area of deep personal concern to me, and one that I know many of you share. I am committed to ensuring not only that students like Georg and Caitlin continue their studies, but that we find the funds better to support students from under-represented backgrounds.

Second, the breadth of different views in this debate underlines the fact that Australia's current arrangements for funding higher education are broken: a system where both education and research are underfunded but where students already face a debt burden, and where institutions such as ours are over-dependent on international student fees, is inadequate and unsustainable.

We expect that the government will introduce a bill into parliament tomorrow (Thursday 28). Whatever the final state of the legal environment, we will have to respond in a way that does not betray our core values. In doing so, we will have to answer critical questions about the future size and shape of our University. For example, how can the funding of university education enhance quality and access? What should the balance be between public and private contributions to tuition? What kind of bursary schemes and other support will we need to fund to enhance genuine access?

We will be in touch with information about arrangements for further consultation after we know more about the details of the government's proposals. In the meantime we have set up an online form if you would like to submit your views, which we will use to inform those consultations.

I will continue to keep you updated. Thank you again for your contribution.

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