The Federal Government has announced the Budget this week, with much to talk about within the tertiary education sector. We’ve put together a summary on how the Federal Budget 2015–16 will affect higher education and VET providers as well as their students.
Higher education providers
There has been no further update on fee deregulation in the Budget; however, it was hinted that we would see its introduction in 2016, even though the proposal is yet to be passed by the Senate. At this point, the proposal is still being pursued and, if approved, updates will be announced in coming months.
The Budget papers reveal scientific research to be a big winner, with the federal government maintaining funding until 2017. This, however, comes at the expense of the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE). The cut, estimated at $260 million over the next four years, will have a major effect on the capacity of universities to conduct research — quality and quantity alike. SRE is known to top up universities’ research funds, which researchers receive in the form of competitive grants from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. SRE also funds university labs, libraries and research staff salaries.
The Budget 2015–16 focuses on strengthening the VET sector, with the federal government investing around $6 billion to support apprentices and vocational students in getting the high-quality training they need.
Recent concerns, relating to questionable providers in the sector, inappropriate market practices, protecting tax payers’ money and student wellbeing, are also addressed in the Budget. Taking these concerns into consideration, the government has introduced stricter standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), while maintaining funding for the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA).
Despite fee deregulation still being up in the air, the Budget anticipates that spending on tertiary education will be reduced by 7.3 per cent from 2015–16 to 2018–19. Prospective students heading to university should expect course fees to increase in coming years.
The Federal Budget also looks to improve student learning outcomes over time with the provision of funding to lift initial teacher training quality. This involves the government providing a total of $16.9 million from 2015–16 to 2018–19.
Students within the VET sector also received positive news, with the federal government confirming its ongoing commitment to provide subsidies for students undertaking programs at private colleges and TAFE institutes. On top of that, the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme will benefit from reforms — arrangements with training providers will be strengthened as well as ensuring the production of students and employers
Apprentices are set to benefit from a funding boost of $664 million. This includes incentives for employers to take on and train unemployed young people, and a further $1.8 million for the continuation of recently introduced Trade Support Loans. The aim is to get more than 1.5 million students to gain crucial skills and nationally recognised qualifications.
Also of interest is the Australian Apprenticeships Support Network, set to begin on 1 July. The initiative is looking to match more apprentices to their prospective employers, while continuing to support them throughout their apprenticeship. The Budget estimates that more than 350,000 apprentices will be supported in the first year of the program, which will receive $200 million in funding for 2015–16.
For further information on how the 2015–2016 budget will affect students and families, see What the Federal Budget means for the K-12 sector.