THE federal government yesterday played down fears rural university campuses such as Warrnambool would be disadvantaged by a new review of higher education.
Speculation was sparked this week when Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he would examine the demand-driven system of student intake introduced by the former Labor government to see if it reduced education quality.
His comments sparked suggestions that caps on the number of Commonwealth-supported university places would be re-introduced.
Wannon MP Dan Tehan told The Standard yesterday Mr Pyne’s office assured him there had been no decision to re-introduce caps.
“Mr Pyne said he wanted to review the higher education system to ensure the standard of courses continued to improve because there had been concerns around quality,” Mr Tehan said.
“I’d be very interested to hear from Deakin as to how they could improve the number of courses and student numbers at Warrnambool.
“My focus is to continue to help the Warrnambool campus to grow.
“Deakin and community leaders should engage in this review.”
However, Geelong-based state secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union Colin Long told The Standard smaller rural campuses like Warrnambool could face an uncertain future.
“Warrnambool, which is not the most profitable campus, could struggle if the caps went back on,” Mr Long said.
“It would hinder the ability of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and with low entry scores to engage in university education.
“This would be a serious threat to the campus viability.”
Mr Long said the push to restore caps was driven by a group of eight of Australia’s elite universities which argued increased admissions of students with low entry scores drove down education standards.
However, he said quality of education had less to do with entry scores than it did with government budget cuts and alarming changes to student-staff ratios.
Deakin University management chose not to comment to The Standard.
Warrnambool’s mayor Michael Neoh said he would be concerned if government changes hindered the ability of rural students to attend university.
He said the south-west had some of the lowest year 12 or equivalent attainment rates and efforts to improve that must be encouraged.
“There’s a lot of evidence to say students with year 12 and university qualifications have better life outcomes in employment and remuneration,” he said.
“Warrnambool’s Deakin campus plays a crucial role in providing local options for students,” Cr Neoh said.