Ten thousand students are set to miss out on government funded university places, thanks to the Turnbull Government’s "unsustainable" freeze on funding across the tertiary education sector.
As the main round of university offers go out to prospective students across the country this week, federal funding cuts will leave a projected 9,500 places unfunded by Government in 2018, according to a modelling forecast from Universities Australia.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the $2.2 billion cut announced just before Christmas had put Australia’s universities between a rock and a hard place.
“Universities are determined to honour their commitments to prospective students, but our early modelling shows the scale of the funding gap inflicted by the Government’s cuts,” she said.
“The cuts were announced on 18 December and took effect from 1 January.
“Many universities had already made detailed plans by that time on how many places they would offer in 2018.”
Ms Robinson said the impact would “vary from university to university” but could see some institutions forced to offer fewer places to keep their budgets out of the red.
“Others will have to dig into critical maintenance funds or will lose the funding they need to run outreach into regional and remote Australia,” she said.
In December’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), the Government froze university funding for student places at 2017 levels, leaving any university that was planning to grow or even maintain student numbers with a funding cut.
These latest cuts come on top of nearly $4 billion funding cuts to the sector since 2011.
“The funding freeze is unsustainable. In 2018 and beyond, universities will struggle to cope with commitments already factored into their Budgets. In the end, short-term band aids won’t be able to stem the bleeding,” Ms Robinson said.
“As Government funding recedes, universities will also be under pressure to enrol fewer students in expensive but crucial courses such as nursing, IT, science and engineering.”
“These are areas where there are already skills shortages in the economy—a situation that will only get worse as the university cuts begin to bite.”
Global ratings agency Moody’s also warned last week that the funding freeze would damage the sector, creating greater funding volatility and risk.
However, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has hit back at tertiary institutions for not undertaking cost-saving initiatives outside of student places, SMH reports.
"Are universities really saying that they can't find a meagre 1.5 per cent of efficiencies across their $17 billion budgets?," Senator Birmingham said.
"If so, then they should be embarrassed for putting administrative and marketing budgets before their students."
The Sydney Morning Herald reports a 2017 Deloitte study found universities were spending 15 per cent of their funding to administration and marketing, which had doubled from 6 per cent in 2010.