Funding plan would give Western Sydney Uni $54m less than it had expected

Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus - tougher times could be ahead if the Federal Government's future funding plan gets the nod.
Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus - tougher times could be ahead if the Federal Government's future funding plan gets the nod.

WITH Western Sydney University set to receive $54m less in federal funding than it expected over the next four years, Macquarie MP Susan Templeman told parliament on Wednesday the move would hit some of the most disadvantaged students.

She said a whopping 60 per cent of Western Sydney University students are the first in their family to go to university, and about a quarter of WSU students are of low socioeconomic status. 

The proposed cut in expected future funding was part of a total cut of $341 million from NSW universities.

“It’s no surprise to us in the west of Sydney that we are going to be hit hardest by the Government’s latest cuts to university funding,” Ms Templeman told parliament. 

“Western Sydney University, where 2000 of the students in my electorate of Macquarie go, will face the biggest hit of any university in NSW. It will be $54 million worse off over the next four years than with the current settings.

“The consequence of those cuts is that students will be worse off, there will be fewer staff employed, scholarships will be at risk and some of the schemes that support not just students but the wider community will have to go.

“Every student who starts at Western Sydney is able to get free e-text books in their first year which they can access on any device. When you are the first one to go to university, or your family doesn’t have a high income, the initial outlay for those first year text books can be enough to deter you from even making it to uni. This program is at risk with these cuts.

“Even more than that, as the Vice-Chancellor told me – as a Senate inquiry’s been told –this cut will undermine the university’s ability to skill people for the jobs the future will demand.”

The government’s plan will also hit students by increasing their fees by 7.5 per cent and slashing the HECS repayment threshold from $55,874 to $42,000.

However Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who unveiled the plans in May, said they are not cuts at all as the total government funding for the university was still going up. 

"Our reforms still see university teaching revenue grow by a further 23 per cent over the next four years and will ensure the ongoing viability of generous higher education funding and access,” he said.

Figures his office sent the Gazette showed this year’s base funding from the government for Western Sydney University was $502.8m. Under the proposed new funding plan, base funding in 2021 would be $521.7m. However it also sent figures showing funding per student each year going down.

Universities Australia, the peak body representing universities across the country, said the real problem was the 2.5 per cent ‘efficiency dividend’ part of the plan that will reduce the Government’s contribution to university places in 2018 and 2019.

“The increase in the student contribution [university fees] will not fully offset this reduction,” the Universities Australia report on the government's proposal said.

“This cut is bigger than it looks and — by re-setting the baseline — is permanent. The combined impact of ‘efficiency dividends’ in two successive years represents a cut of nearly 5 per cent in real terms to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS), compared to current funding levels.

“By 2021, the total cut to Government subsidies for university places would be just over 10 per cent. While student contributions increase by 7.5 per cent to 2021 and offset most of the 10 per cent cut, they would not offset the ‘efficiency dividend’. As a result, students will have to pay more for university places, but the overall level of resourcing per place will be lower.

“This may have a negative effect on access to higher education particularly for those from more financially disadvantaged backgrounds and regional and remote areas where higher education participation is already comparatively low. UA is concerned that the changes to CSP funding will further exacerbate a city – country divide in employment, productivity and innovation.”

The plan is yet to be passed by the Senate.