Published 31 October 2001

The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee (AVCC) has described ALP's policy announcement to increase funding for universities as "a positive second step" - one that builds on the Government's research focussed initiatives in Backing Australia's Ability by targeting the teaching and learning side of the university re-investment agenda.

The President of the AVCC, Professor Ian Chubb, said that it was important to understand the two sides to the university funding issues. "In Backing Australia's Ability the Government made an excellent first step in the direction of re-building Australia's research and innovation base.

In his announcement today, Mr. Beazley has built on this with a positive second step addressing the teaching and learning side of the university re-investment equation.

"The ALP's University Improvement Fund is an important initiative that acknowledges the imperative for Australia to maintain and enhance the quality of the learning experience for the students in our universities, by reducing student: teacher ratios and otherwise improving the quality and resourcing for teaching in universities.

"Just as we will need further steps in research and innovation, so too Mr. Beazley's plan will need to be followed in due course with further steps aimed at bringing Australia's investment in all aspects of higher education at least up to par with the developments taking place in other modern industrial nations. But it is a development and we welcome it."

Professor Chubb said there are other elements of the package that are also commendable.

"The raising of the threshold for repayment of HECS is excellent. The AVCC has argued for many years that the threshold has been far too low, creating an unreasonable burden on many students, and potentially inhibiting students who lack parental financial support. Our report just released on student financing Paying Their Way shows that the financial and consequential time pressures on students have reached a quite critical stage and can no longer be ignored.

"The expansion of Research Fellowships has likewise been high on our list of priorities, and gets to the issue of keeping and seeing the return of our best minds to do critical work here rather than overseas.

"Finally, we welcome the ALP's commitment to expanding access for those who currently lack access to higher education opportunities. There are obviously questions of operational detail of the University of Australia Online concept but the intention to expand access is one we support."

Media Inquiries: Greg Ellis 02 6285 8206; 0417 623 381

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