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Government quiet on higher education ahead of federal budget

IT’S an issue that inspires violent protests and fuels fierce political fights, but in the lead up to tonight’s Federal Budget, higher education has been conspicuously absent from discussion.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham began proudly touting the governments $1.2 billion boost to schools funding over the weekend. Though there were countless rounds of speeches and interviews, barely a word was muttered by the cabinet minister or his inquisitors about university deregulation.

The government is expected to outline changes to university funding, including deregulation of university fees.

It has been speculated the government will look to soften the blow by capping fee increases.

Though no official details have been revealed, Mr Birmingham has been keen to distance his plan for higher education from the unpopular deregulation proposal outlined in the Coalitions disastrous 2014 Budget.

The plan to cut funding to universities by 20 per cent and lift regulations on fees led to a convincing campaign by Labor based on the possibility of $100,000 degrees, infuriating student groups.

National Union of Students (NUS) president Sinead Colee told students were expecting cuts to funding, research, and income support to be announced in the Budget.

We completely reject any increase to university fees. The government needs to recognise that it has a responsibility to fully fund higher education, not continually strip it bare, she said.

Ms Colee said students believed the government had failed in every respect on education, and expected them to continue by ignoring public opinion.

The NUS is planning demonstrations to respond to the Federal Budget next week, despite not knowing what the document will detail.

I encourage all students who are disappointed with actions by the government, whether it is the prospect of $100,000 degrees, huge waits on Centrelink or university campus closures, to send a message to the government that we wont just sit by and accept attacks on our rights, Ms Colee said.

Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Birmingham said Australias university system was being weighed down by mounting costs to government and unpaid debts.

Mr Birminghams office did not respond to request for comment.

Malcolm Farr assesses the possibilities of the 2016 Budget

Plan to break cycle of lifelong welfare

THE Federal Government today launched a campaign to extricate young people at risk of being buried for life in welfare dependence.

It is asking for big ideas from thinkers everywhere to help steer youngsters into jobs.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter announced the $96 million Try, Test and Learn Fund, which would enable organisations to compete for a chance to try policy that would prevent unnecessary entry into the welfare cycle.

The rescue targets include teenagers, mothers and students, the tragic inhabitants of Australias $160 billion welfare system, a system which grabs about 80 per cent of all income tax each year.

Mr Porter revealed people on benefits would be tracked through a purpose-built data system that collates all the welfare information of the past 15 years and applies it in modelling of particular groups.

Through this modelling we can predict the likely movements for target groups on, off and in between welfare payments, and calculate the future welfare expenditure, he said.

He condemned current practices, saying: There is nothing morally superior about welfare structures that are passively allocating money in a way that corrodes the recipients chances of experiencing the meaning, the engagement and the purpose that work brings to all of our lives.

The groups of greatest concern are:

11,000 young carers, who are expected to rely on government money for 43 years

4370 young parents, who will draw on welfare for 45 years, and of whom 80 per cent come from welfare-dependent families

6600 young students, who will rely on income support for 37 years.

Mr Porter launched today the Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare report, which he saidgave a clear, transparent and detailed profile of the welfare system.

He called for a revolutionary approach to help the groups identified by the analysis.

Revolutionary change is required, but required in stages, which shifts the focus onto real people for whom the mere passive receipt of welfare is failing, sometimes spectacularly, to actually make their lives better, said Mr Porter, who outlined the report findings at the National Press Club.

The ideas fund would be open to not-for-profit organisations, governments, social policy experts and industry.

Government will consult on how the fund should operate to best encourage innovative proposals from a wide range of stakeholders, Mr Porter said.