She said Labor would oppose the bill in the Senate.
The reform package centres on a plan to hike fees by 113 per cent for humanities courses, and 28 per cent for law and commerce. It will also cut fees for courses such as teaching, nursing and STEM fields 46 to 62 per cent in a bid to encourage students towards these disciplines, which the government regards as areas of expected job growth.
The government says the measures will fund an extra 39,000 places by 2023 and 100,000 by the end of the decade, but this is not guaranteed in the proposed legislation.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said on Wednesday the reforms would create “stronger linkages between universities and industry”, adding this would be “absolutely vital to ensuring we grow our economy out of this pandemic.”
Labor’s broadside comes as vice-chancellors and university peak bodies were grilled this week by a Senate inquiry into the government’s bill, which needs the support of three crossbenchers for the changes to be legislated.
The University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black recommended the Senate pass the bill – an endorsement that may help the government secure the crucial vote of crossbench Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.
University of the Sunshine Coast Vice-Chancellor Helen Bartlett told the inquiry the reforms were not perfect but there were “multiple ways” in which regional universities stood to benefit, including a 3.5 per cent funding increase for more places.
“On balance we feel it is better to support this now rather than a continuation of the uncertainty that we’ve all been experiencing over the last several years,” Professor Bartlett said.
Peak body Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, acknowledged the package contained no new money and would see total funding for teaching fall by 5.8 per cent per place on average. It has asked for several amendments, including that the government’s promise of increased places be guaranteed in the legislation and the reforms be reviewed within three years.
Asked whether the bill should pass if the amendments were not accepted, chief executive Catriona Jackson said: “what we need is some sort of stability and funding and policy certainty and the passage of the bill would equate with that.”
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, who has been one of the most strident critics of the proposed reforms, said even with amendments the bill would be “bad for future students and bad for the nation”.
“In my line of work, we’d say ‘revise and resubmit’,” Dr Spence told the inquiry.
Lisa Visentin is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering education and communications.