Media Release: Pyne’s new Commonwealth Scholarships scheme is inequitable and unworkable

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Posted 25 June 2014 by Michael Evans (NTEU National Office)

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) analysis (attached) shows that the proposed new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme for higher education students introduced as part of the 2014-15 Federal Budget is essentially unfair.

The proposal disadvantages universities with the highest proportion of students from low SES backgrounds.  This needs to be taken into account by those currently reviewing the Scheme,” said National President Jeannie Rea.

“Under Education Minister Pyne’s scheme, universities and other providers (with more than 500 students) will be required to put $1 from every $5 of increased student fees aside to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students.

“These scholarships will be entirely funded by student fees charged and collected by universities, who will then run the scheme in their university. Calling them Commonwealth scholarships is inappropriate and dishonest and Sir Robert Menzies, who introduced real Commonwealth Scholarships would be turning in his grave.

“The only way that Mr Pyne’s claims that his scheme will result in a record level of scholarships can be true is if there are record increases in student fees.

“If university fees do not increase, or even fall as Mr Pyne has claimed might be the result of deregulating fees, then the value of his new scholarships would be a big fat zero.

“Clearly Mr Pyne is banking on deregulation resulting in a significant increase in fees. Otherwise he could not make claims that there will be a massive increase in scholarships. This is the basis of his justification for cutting Commonwealth funded student start-up and relocation scholarships by more than $800m over the next four years.

“Not only is Mr Pyne’s new scholarship scheme asking students to pay for the scholarships of their disadvantaged classmates through higher fees (and debt), the design is fundamentally inequitable for universities with large cohorts of disadvantaged students.

“The simple arithmetic of the scheme is that for universities with more than 20% of students from low SES backgrounds, the increase in fees will be more than the average value of new Commonwealth scholarships. That is, the average value of the scholarship will not be sufficient to cover the increase in fees.

“The universities with the highest levels of student from low SES backgrounds are regional universities and those from outer metropolitan areas.

“NTEU argues that the scheme is cynical and unfair and should be scrapped and direct government funding returned to the universities with the track record of successfully educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“If the scheme is to proceed, at the very least NTEU’s call for the funds to be pooled and distributed on a needs basis should be taken seriously,” Rea concluded.

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