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FED: Universities thrilled with budget boost of $5.7bn

By Julian Drape
12 May 2009 10:34 PM
Subject: FED: Universities thrilled with budget boost of $5.7bn FED: Universities thrilled with budget boost of $5.7bn

CANBERRA, May 12 AAP - Australia's universities might not have got everything they wanted in the budget, but they're pleased enough with the package for the Group of Eight to label it "visionary".

Universities were hoping to receive $6.5 billion over four years in this year's budget, as recommended by the Bradley review into higher education.

Instead the entire sector will share $5.7 billion.

ANU vice-chancellor Ian Chubb says he's "delighted" with that outcome.

"Grumblers will say there should have been more, but let's be realistic here," Prof Chubb said.

"An investment of more than $5 billion in higher education and research is to be celebrated."

In particular, Prof Chubb welcomed performance-based funding and a move towards funding the full cost of research, at $512 million.

That call was echoed by Group of Eight chair Alan Robson.

"A serious commitment to move progressively to cover each university's indirect research costs ... is vital to the quality and competitiveness of Australia's universities," he said.

The federal government also increased the indexation rate for universities to cover teaching, learning and research costs.

That will involve spending $578 million over three years from 2011.

Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said that would "ensure teaching is maintained and enhanced".

Students have got what they wanted - increased access to income support.

The parental income threshold will jump from $32,800 to $42,559 next year.

The age of independence will be progressively lowered from 25 to 22 by 2012, and a new start-up scholarship means those on support will receive $2,254 for education costs.

Country students will get a new relocation allowance of $4,000 in their first year at university and $1,000 each year after that.

Students will also be able to earn $400 a fortnight from 2011 before losing benefits, up from $236.

But it's not all good news for students.

The government is tightening the criteria to prove independence.

In the past, students who worked 15 hours per week part-time or earned $20,000 over 18 months qualified for support.

>From 2010, they'll need to work full-time for at least 30 hours a week.

Postgraduates have done well too.

Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations president Nigel Palmer said extending access to Youth Allowance and Austudy to 40,000 postgraduate students was a great result.

An increase to the stipend rate for postgraduate award holders was also a plus, he said.

"This budget will be welcomed by Australia's quarter of a million postgraduate students and it contains reforms that are long overdue."

Labor has also put money behind key structural changes announced earlier this year.

Uncapping student places from 2012 will cost $491 million.

Then there's $57 million over four years to establish a national regulatory agency to oversee the new deregulated system, and $437 million over four years to help meet the goal of enrolling an additional 55,000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020.

As expected, there's big dollars for buildings too.

Successful projects from round two of the Education Investment Fund (EIF) will receive $934 million over four years.

A further $750 million will be set aside for future rounds.

A sustainability round of the EIF will see $650 million go to clean energy and climate change research infrastructure.

While the funding is more staggered than Bradley suggested, universities know that they've done well in tough economic times.

"In a difficult budgetary environment ... (Labor) is to be commended for its long-term vision and commitment to Australian higher education," Prof Robson said.

AAP jcd/so/ht/cdh=0A

FED: Universities thrilled with budget boost of $5.7bn