Question Time: Universities

Ms LE (Fowler) (14:40): My question is to the Minister for Education: We have over 38,000 students in Fowler. Over 15 per cent attend universities and almost 22 per cent are in high school, hoping they’ll head in the right direction. While changes to HECS indexation are welcome, what will the government do to stop the doubling of upfront costs for arts students studying subjects such as history, English, politics and health science? Many students come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. Why are arts students treated differently?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:41): I thank the Member for Fowler for her question. The changes that we’re making to HECS are big and important for students and graduates across the nation, including 22,000 people in the electorate of Fowler who’ll benefit from the cuts to HECS indexation. All across the country, we’re going to wipe more than $3 billion of HECS debt for more than three million Australians. If you’re somebody with a HECS debt of, say, $26,000, which is the average across the nation, that means that once we pass legislation through this parliament—and I hope that it will get the support of all members of the House—that will cut your HECS debt by $1,200. If you’ve got a HECS debt of, say, $45,000, that will cut your HECS debt by about $2,000. So that’s important.

The paid prac that we’re introducing through the Accord is important too. If you’re a teaching student, nursing student or social work student, this is financial support to help with the cost of living while you’re studying. Doing a paid prac is an important thing that has never happened before in this country. It’s never happened with the support of the Commonwealth government before.

You asked about arts degrees. There are recommendations in the accord that talk about changes there. In the Accord response in the budget, we have agreed to implement 29 of the 47 recommendations in full or in part. The Accord itself is bigger than one budget. The reforms that we need to implement will need to be implemented over the next few decades. As I said, in the budget, we have bitten off a big chunk of it—29 of the 47 recommendations.

In relation to the recommendations around job-ready graduates, we announced in the budget that we would establish an Australian Tertiary Education Commission to steer reform here, and that will include the setting of course fees.