No stress HEFF

There were four Commonwealth Government levies on industry in 1960. If an O’Kane Accord proposal is adopted there will be 249, with the new one slugging universities for $5bn.

The Accord proposes a Higher Education Future Fund, with the Commonwealth kicking in $5bn and the universities the same, drawn from “unencumbered revenues” and managed by the Future Fund board. Nominated purposes are learning and teaching infrastructure and housing for domestic students. It appears to build on ideas in a National Tertiary Education Union Accord submission.

Apart from complaints from the Group of Eight,( which would surely contribute most capital and receive the least), commentary was muted – perhaps in part because people are relieved that the much media-hyped international student levy was a furphy. Perhaps because universities skilled at special pleading (what, like the Regional Universities Network? you ask) or with fashionable cases to make (regional study hubs come to mind) don’t want to give any others ideas.

A new Future Fund might also appeal to government – while it would not allocate the funds, it would take pressure off departmental budgets, and could be a $5bn bargain, allowing ministers to refer capex budget bids to HEFF.

But once in place, would the Commonwealth leave its share alone? The Productivity Commission warns there are rarely “systematic robust reviews” of levies outside agriculture, where they started. The Howard Government’s Education Investment Fund was shut down by the Coalition in 2019, with Labor support; $50m for TAFE was the comrades’ price. 



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