Universities slam ‘wealth tax’ proposal in reform blueprint

A fund aimed at making higher education fairer and more equitable could ruin the international standings of Australian universities, a vice-chancellor has warned, while another branded it a “wealth tax”.

Feb 26, 2024, updated Feb 26, 2024
A 400-page Universities Accord has been released by the federal government. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A 400-page Universities Accord has been released by the federal government. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The 400-page Universities Accord released by Education Minister Jason Clare on Sunday laid out a decades-long blueprint for the role played by higher education in meeting demand for skills.

It recommended increasing the percentage of the workforce with a vocational education and training (VET) sector or university qualification from 60 per cent to 80 per cent by 2050 by making the higher education system more equitable.

While most universities have lauded the report, some of the nation’s leading and richest institutions decried one of its recommendations as a “bureaucratic tax” with dire consequences.

The accord suggested establishing the $10 billion Higher Education Future Fund that would provide support for infrastructure like student housing, classrooms and research facilities through co-contributions from public universities and the government.

But Monash University Vice-Chancellor and President Sharon Pickering has condemned the recommendation.

“The proposed Higher Education Future Fund is a costly, complicated and cumbersome tax on our world-class universities,” she said.

“Imposing an inefficient bureaucratic tax on universities is not the way to deliver on the aspirations of the accord … it will have the opposite effect and diminish Monash’s ability to deliver on the accord’s objectives.

“Monash opposes measures that will impair the international standing of Australian universities and blunt the economic and social impacts of university education and research.”

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott offered similar sentiments, calling the revenue redistribution a “wealth tax”.

The Australian Academy of Science, however, has welcomed the fund as has the National Tertiary Education Union, saying it will address core issues for staff like insecure work.

But Business Council of Australia executive Bran Black warned that if it is established, it is vital it does not deter business engagement or philanthropic support for universities.

Clare said he was keeping an “open mind” on whether the government would consider the fund.

“There are some universities who hate it, there are other universities who love it,” he said.

“Whether this is the way to do it .. I’m keen over the next few weeks and months to talk to universities.”

The accord made 47 recommendations to boost university numbers, which are still being considered by the government.

It suggested increasing enrolment of students with under-represented backgrounds such as people from outer suburbs, the regions, lower socio-economic and Indigenous communities.

Other targets include boosting to 55 per cent the proportion of university-educated Australians aged between 25 to 34, up from 45 per cent, while increasing the vocational qualifications of that cohort to 40 per cent.

It recommends additional Commonwealth-supported medical places in regional universities, and for all First Nations students.

There should also be increased job opportunities in relevant areas of study, including through a “jobs broker”.


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