Government quiet on higher education ahead of federal budget

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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