The government outmanoeuvred universities with its Bill to enact first recommendations from the Accord – for vice chancellors to argue against staff focuses and student friendly measures would not have been wise.
But Senate committee hearings give lobbies a chance to warn what’s in the weeds.
The Bill includes student supports which HE institutions must provide and sets out an $18 000 fine, plus naming and shaming provisions, for starters, for those that don’t, (Future Campus, August 23).
The questions lobbies are asking is what will the student supports accomplish and how will they work?
“An administrative and penalty regime is being implemented before the nature and extent of any problems with student support have been properly identified,“ the Group of Eight warns.
The Australian Technology Network points to existing regulations and warns the bill, “will introduce a separate duplicative set of arrangements,” and “confuse responsibilities, reduce efficiency and are wasteful of Commonwealth and university resources.”
And while the Innovative Research Universities is careful to support the intent, it warns that guidelines for student support, “could extend beyond what is practical and implementable.” IRU suggests that institution-specific requirements should be in each universities Accord agreement.
The University of Sydney makes the same point, just with vigour in its vehemence, comparing the student support section of the Bill to the previous government’s loathed Job Ready Graduates legislation, “we are concerned that there has been no clear articulation of the policy problem, nor of what a detailed and externally mandated law needs to be applied informally to all providers.”
The submission details the problems it will create to no good purpose. “We are aware of no evidence that the government’s proposed approach will cost-effectively produce the intended results, or that any alternative options for improving student support services across the higher education sector have been considered.”
And it states many of the supports Education Minister Jason Clare mentioned in his second reading speech on the Bill, “are already covered in either policy or localised practice.”
As to what happens to the Bill as a whole, the committee might recommend it to the Senate as is. Other sections, notably extending demand driven UG funding to all Indigenous Australians, may be too popular to delay. But the Opposition might propose the student support elements need work. “It looks like the policy hasn’t even been thought through,” shadow education minister Sarah Henderson said at a committee hearing on Friday.
To which the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson replied, “we seem to be doing something a bit ‘cart before the horse’. We need to understand what the problem is. We’ve now got the student support policy guidelines, which were just released very recently. We’re looking to put something in place—I think the time frames are very ambitious—by the beginning of next year. And we have no clue as to how this will actually be applied.”