CQUniversity sign.
CQUniversity sign. Chris Ison

Regional Universities Network pens wishlist

REGIONAL scholarships, student loan interest rate changes and a competitive regions funds top the wish list of a key group of universities.

Central Queensland, Sunshine Coast, Southern Queensland, Southern Cross and New England universities, as well as the Federation University Australia, sent Education Minister Christopher Pyne a clear message this week.

The Regional University Network members' submission to the Senate Committee on the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill backs fee deregulation but rejects reducing Commonwealth grant scheme funding.

RUN chairman Professor Peter Lee said the decline in per student government funding meant fee changes were the only feasible way forward.

Prof Lee said the sector could maintain quality and compete on the global stage, provided the needs of regional students and universities were considered under the reforms.

"We strongly oppose a reduction in Commonwealth grant scheme funding as proposed under the HERRA Bill because, if these cuts proceed without modification, there will be a substantial negative impact on regional universities' teaching, research and community engagement activities," Prof Lee said.

"A competitive regions fund would be specifically targeted to those providers whose total proportion of domestic undergraduate students from regional and remote areas is higher than the mean for all providers, to recognise those universities operating in thin markets.

"We also propose funding regional scholarships in addition to the proposed Commonwealth Scholarships Scheme, or, if this doesn't eventuate, pooling some or all money from the proposed Commonwealth Scholarships Scheme to redistribute to universities with a high proportion of low socio-economic-status students to allocate to disadvantaged students, or to give directly to students.

"In combination, a reduction in government funding and real interest rate on loans will have a disproportionate impact on the regional and disadvantaged students who study at RUN universities, as well as the communities from which they come."

A spokesman for Mr Pyne said the reforms would lead to greater opportunities for regional residents get higher education qualifications.

"The Australian government's higher education reforms will provide more opportunity for students, particularly from low socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas, through the uncapping of places in diploma, advanced diploma and associate degree courses," he said.

"The Higher Education Loan Program will continue to ensure that no Australian student has to pay a dollar up front for their tertiary education.

"Students can borrow their full share of the cost of their education through HELP, and do not need to repay anything until they earn in excess of $50 000 a year." 

What RUN wants

The Regional Universities Network (RUN) has called for:

- Interest rate on HECS/HELP loans to be set at 50% of the long-term bond rate, with interest rates on the loan capped at 4%.

- Regional scholarships.

- A competitive regions fund.

- APN NEWSDESK



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