Q&A with university, business and student leaders, Canberra

Belinda Robinson: Thank you very much Minister. I think there’s a lot, there’s a lot in that package and a lot that perhaps hasn’t necessarily been anticipated but as you say, certainly puts students and equity at the centre.

The Minister has very kindly agreed to stay with us for around 20 minutes for a Q&A and we are streaming live. I think I’m going to be getting any questions from the streamees on my phone here. This is going to be interesting isn’t it [laughs].

Simon Birmingham: Or from some of the real people in the room.

Belinda Robinson: But what I’d like to do, and I’ll hand the microphone back to you Minister, but if we could take questions from the room first and then if we get questions through- and I do invite those who are watching this and listening to this through the Facebook streaming to please send their questions through and the Minister will answer them to the best that he’s able. But of course I know a lot of people in the room too are going to be attending the briefing session provided by the department tomorrow and certainly there’ll be another opportunity to get more detail on the package at that session.

So, can I please have the first volunteer, UA chair, Barney Glover, thank you very much for starting the ball rolling. I’m not sure – do we have a microphone or do we just- shout?

Simon Birmingham: There we go. It’s coming through.

Belinda Robinson: We do have one Barney, thank you. 

Barney Glover: Minister, it was 12 months ago, almost, it was at lockup that we commented on consultation process and it is I think important to note we’re back here and I do acknowledge the consultation that’s gone on and I also acknowledge that looking at this package there’s much in it that the sector will acknowledge very positively and Belinda’s touched on access and equity as being two of those very strong themes. I think the opening of the sub-bachelor load to the demand-driven system is something that UA has been promoting for some time and we thank you for that initiative. I think locking HEPPP in through legislation for a long-term future and changing its distribution mechanism, another example of that recognising the challenges for universities who are attracting students from a low SES background. We’ve been looking for stability in the sector for some time. Clearly we are concerned about budget cuts, as you can imagine, both in terms of CGS and also the impact on students. 

But my question really is one around the confidence you have in navigating the difficult challenge of the Senate that you face. We have faced this challenge as a sector now for several years, we’ve been talking about it at our conferences, we’ve talked about it in our Press Club addresses, we’ve talked about it in the media that we’re looking for stability but not stability through the inability of Parliament to respond to the needs of the sector. How confident are you and is this a package that you’re willing to negotiate around or is this something you’re very committed to seeing through?

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Barney. I’ve only just announced the package so I won’t start negotiating it away right now. Look, I appreciate there is a fair bit to digest as well I should emphasise. I suspect if you looked up on your devices right now the education.gov.au you’ll find that there is a policy paper that’s been uploaded and is available which includes highlights on some of the other proposals that I haven’t touched on tonight. I thought I was speaking quite long enough as it was but there are some important commitments to take a look holistically at the tertiary system and the AQF and to make sure that in these reforms and the steps we’re taking we are also considered in the long run about that interaction particularly between higher education and vocational education. 

Barney, in terms of the politics of passing these measures. First and foremost I hope, because I’m a hopeful person, that the Labor Party who were still talking about $100,000 degrees on the weekend will see that they were dead wrong and perhaps will recognise that sensible, modest, measured reforms passed through the Parliament can give students, the sector certainty, not just now, but in terms of re-calibrating the financial sustainability of the HELP program, you can really set that up for essentially another generation. HELP was only just introduced in the couple of years prior to me going to university and it’s worked incredibly well but it does sit at something of a potential tipping point. And of course with the enormous growth we’ve seen in higher education funding over the period particularly since 2009 there is an element of a tipping point. You all know that there were real discussions and propositions put forward by people to bring to an end the demand-driven system. 

Now what we are seeking to do as a government is to say, no, if we get the policy settings right by providing the capacity for universities to better direct students into one or two year sub-bachelor programs where that’s appropriate, to have some accountability measures that run in tandem with the demand-driven system through our performance payment measures, that we should be able to make that work for the long term. But financially from a federal budget perspective it has to work as well and the changes that we’ve introduced, that are relatively modest when you boil them down to the impact on students and their fees, the impact in students on their repayment rates and the impact on universities in terms of their overall levels of funding, I think a change is that we should be able to manage and see passed through. I would hope the Opposition, which is the best path of securing a strong, clear, early outcome, recognise that. If they don’t, well, I have commenced already some discussions with the crossbench and of course we’ll keep those going and we’ll work through a process that I hope can be resolved swiftly this year to give everybody the clarity of what commences next year, noting that some of these elements as well have commencement dates or further steps that will be taking place in 2019 too.

Belinda Robinson: Minister, we have a question from Deep Saini, VC from Canberra University. But just before we go to you Deep, one of our eagle-eyed members of the audience has noted I think you mentioned legislating ongoing support for the $59 million Higher Education Participation Program. I think you mean about 592 …

Simon Birmingham: Yes indeed. You may have seen a quizzical look on my face as I went over that in the speech and I was thinking I don’t think that figure’s right. And yes, the press release we can happily confirm says very clearly, as I’m sure the policy document does, legislating ongoing support for the $592 million Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. So, happy to confirm …

Belinda Robinson: Thank you for that clarification. Professor Saini …

Simon Birmingham: … and of course it’s a loading and a per student loading under our proposal. So that’s the budget estimate.

Question: Thank you Belinda. Minister, you and I have met before so you know I’ve just recently moved from Canada to take my current position here in Canberra. Let me contextualise it a bit before I get to my question, 30 seconds. I left a very close to a cabinet position behind at one of the top universities in the world, University of Toronto, to come to Australia and one of the big reasons I did that, because I’ve been watching Australia for a long time and I see that Australia’s approach to higher education has been quite progressive, that is one of the reasons that higher education is today a $22 billion industry in this country.

So there are a number of very progressive measures in what you have announced today and I commend you on those. But there is one issue that I have difficulty squaring. We understand that the Government is about to announce about $5 billion in tax breaks to the business sector. At the same time we are facing a $2.8 billion cut to our funding. To me both these sectors are pivotal, they are crucial for the future of Australia and I just have difficulty squaring the two decisions and I’m just wondering if you would shed some light on this.

Simon Birmingham: Sure Deep, and I’m happy to do so. When a graduate completes, in a vast majority of instances the most important thing to them is getting a job and in securing a job we need to have strong levels of investment in Australia and we need to have a growing economy. And the Enterprise Tax Plans that the Government has put forward and successfully legislated elements of – I’d note to your earlier question Barney, successfully so far legislated more of than many people had predicted – are about making sure that Australia is an attractive place for business to invest. That’s important to all of you in this room. It’s important to your students, it’s important to your prospects of having research partners, it’s important to those who invest with you and co-invest with you in a range of different ways.

So, in no way do I see the measures as being inconsistent. We need, in a world in which a number of other countries have and are reducing their company tax rates, to make sure that Australia remains a competitive place for global capital that, as you know, just like students now, is increasingly mobile. And so it’s that mobility issue that we seek to address through those reforms. But it is being mindful, absolutely, of the importance of institutions, and of your circumstances that we have put together a proposal that I think is very modest and measured in terms of the impacts at each point where it does have a financial impact and contribute to budget repair. 

The impact on universities, as I said, on average of the efficiency dividend when you net it out with the changes to student contributions, is around 2.9 per cent. That’s purely in relation to your teaching and learning funding. Doesn’t relate, of course, to your research funding, doesn’t relate to the significant other income, including international student income, that institutions receive and it comes off the back of a prolonged period of very, very significant financial growth into Australian universities, that just in teaching and learning alone now sits at a contribution of around $10 billion. So, big growth, large income that’s come through the sector. I think now is a time when we can make that adjustment, make a contribution towards repair of the difficult federal budget situation we have, but in relation to your question of juxtaposing the two, it’s important that we have investment in Australia as well to provide the jobs your graduates want and to provide the businesses that your researchers need to be partnering with and are.

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister. We have a question from Jonathan Powles, who wants to know in relation to the 2019 performance measures, what are those measures likely to be?

Simon Birmingham: So, 2019 performance measures are measures that we will work through a cooperative way with the sector. That’s why we’re being very clear that it will be around the admissions reforms that essentially everybody has signed up to already is the only basis, really, on which the 2018 performance funding will apply. So, I trust that everybody will successfully meet those standards and we won’t have any problems in relation to those things about which we’ve already agreed. 

We’ll use the time in the interim to negotiate with the sector and as I emphasised in my speech, we recognise that performance metrics may well- likely will, need to be calibrated in different ways for different institutions, that you all have different starting positions. But in terms of having a look at issues of your student ratings, satisfaction, employment outcomes, the types of things that ultimately we might hope to get in there, we will of course work very closely with you to make sure there’s confidence in the data, confidence in the metrics and the performance indicators that are put there. 

As I emphasise this is not any attempt or means for us to clawback any funding to government. We will guarantee that every single dollar in that 7.5 per cent performance pull is money that goes into the universities. It’s about though, ensuring that together, we can continue to lift the boat and give confidence to all of those in Australia that the operation of our university sector, including the demand-driven settings, is an operation that actually has appropriate accountability metrics that are set against public policy objectives, around ensuring students progress satisfactorily through their degree or diploma or associate degree, they have a high level of satisfaction at the end, and a high level of employability at the end.

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister, we’ve also had a question from Shaun who wants to know will there be a transcript for hearing loss people, I’m advised that there will be. So, I don’t think you need to answer that. If we just go to Andy and then we have a question here as well. Andy Vann, Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University.

Andy Vann: Thanks Belinda. Minister, thank you for your speech. As Barney and Deep have said, there’s a lot to take in there and there’s certainly some things that sound good which is great. I just want to ask a question I guess on behalf of students, because I understand you’re saying that this has been equitably shared out and I guess the question that we might ask is if you go back to the last OECD Education at a Glance report, that indicated that the return for both students and the public purse was reasonably equal in terms of higher education. What would you say then to students who might ask about the rebalancing, what would you say to them about shouldering the burden that they’re being asked to shoulder in terms of this package?

Simon Birmingham: Well Andy, as I indicated, the Government will still be paying around 54 per cent on average of the cost of a student’s fees; the taxpayer, of course, it’s the taxpayer that contributes those fees, including taxpayers who don’t have the benefit and opportunity of a university education who contribute towards paying those students’ fees. In terms of OECD comparisons, it’s a consistent bugbear, I suspect, of Australian education ministers that in calculating the government contribution to higher education in Australia, the OECD doesn’t look at the significant costs that are borne by the Government in the operation of the HELP student loan scheme which, of course, are increasing and mounting costs and do ensure that when they’re factored in, Australia’s contribution is well and truly at, if not above, benchmark.

But ultimately, we’ve tried to work on a series of settings that we do think, whether it’s to universities or to students, are fair and manageable. That if you look at the upper-end impact that for a four-year degree, the most significant increase in fees, completely deferrable fees that a student will face, is $3600 which if you equate that over the four years of study is about $17 dollars a week of increased fees. If you look at our changes in terms of the recalibration of repayment rates, similarly when you bring it down to what it actually means to people at a $42,000 income with a new 1 per cent repayment rate – we start at 2 per cent at present – a new 1 per cent repayment rate, it’s around an $8 a week repayment on somebody’s university degree.

I think the vast majority of Australians expect that those who can, ought to be making a contribution towards repaying their student debts and student loans and that, of course, it’s only if those debts and loans are successfully repaid that future ministers and future governments will be able to guarantee that such a generous loan scheme is still there in the future.

Belinda Robinson: Sophie.

Sophie Johnston: Thanks, Sophie Johnston, I’m President of the National Union of Students.

Simon Birmingham: Andy half-stole your question then Sophie, but very good of him to do so.

Sophie Johnston: [Laughs] Yeah, no worries. I’ve got a few others. So, we represent over a million students in higher education in Australia and I think we can all recognise that we’ve had three years of funding uncertainty and I think that we can agree that we’ve definitely felt it. We’ve seen class sizes growing, we’ve seen courses being cut, and we’ve also seen student services being cut as well. Now, this is at a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to be a student. We’re in a period of low wage growth, underemployment is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. 

We’ve also recognised tonight that education is an investment in the Australian economy, and investment in Australia’s future. Do you not agree that increasing the investment in education, rather than pushing the burden onto students, would be increasing and contributing to the economy? And I think it’s also important to note that when we have an educated, highly-skilled, highly-productive class of Australians that have been university educated, they usually go into industries where they’ve been contributing more and more as a taxpayer.

Simon Birmingham: Education is unquestionably an investment, but it must also be efficient investment, a judicious investment, and investment that extracts the best returns for the student and for the nation. It’s not something where we can say, well, unlimited sums will derive ever-improved outcomes and results. It’s something where we have to make sure that for each student, investment is efficient and effective. Now, I’m concerned if you’re telling me about some of the issues that you say you see on campus at present, because it certainly doesn’t fit with the growth that we’ve seen in terms of funding that’s flowed into universities. Yes, there’s been uncertainty over recent years, but of course, contrary to the scare campaigns that occurred during debates around fee deregulation, enrolment numbers, admission numbers maintained, even increased during that time. 

So, I think we’ve seen a strong level of resilience during that uncertainty by students and potential students but I don’t want students to have to continue to face or apply resilience to uncertainty. I want them to have confidence, particularly those who are still at school or generations to come to have certainty that the types of opportunities to access high-quality higher education, without facing upfront fees, with the confidence the Government will, on average, pick up the majority of the cost of your education, are available to students in future and whilst I appreciate that not everyone will like the modest changes we’re applying tonight, I believe that those modest changes can deliver longer term sustainability.

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister. We’ve got Margaret Sheil, Provost from University of Melbourne.

Margaret Sheil: Thank you Minister. As you can appreciate given that the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia have quiet different arrangements to the rest of the sector that the statement in the package that says you’ll negotiate appropriate transition with us will leave us with quite many nervous colleagues thinking that that is code for winding back the very different model of education that we’ve put in place. Can you give me a little bit more detail and reassurance there and also have you given any thought to how you might equitably allocate post-graduate scholarships across the sector when we don’t have the same kind of mechanisms as we do at the undergraduate level with the various tax and so on?

Simon Birmingham: So, the post-graduate changes won’t take effect until 2019, first point. So, they’re one of the delayed changes to give us time to talk appropriately with the sector. Of course, we do as I emphasise want to make sure that post-grad students, when they apply for a scholarship and are accepted, aren’t limited by the institution in terms of the number of places they have but can take their scholarship where they choose to do so. 

Now, there will be, as there are at present, a finite number of places that are in receipt of Commonwealth support. We’re not proposing, as we are in sub-bachelor, to simply apply a demand-driven approach there. But I felt that it was important and the Government believes it’s important to apply a level of consistency in the sense that students have an entitlement that they take with them to a university that is willing to accept them. And under a demand-driven setting, that’s what happens in relation to undergraduates at present, it’s what will happen in relation to sub-bachelors in the future, and under a scholarship program, it’s exactly the same thing that happens: the student earns the entitlement and takes it with them to the university. And the universities, of course we trust, compete for the best and brightest of those students who win and earn those scholarships.

Now, we will work closely with the sector about how the scholarships will be allocated. They will, of course as is currently the case, be allocated in disciplines of public policy priority, in disciplines where we believe there’s a necessity for higher levels of subsidy for certain students, such as Masters of Nursing spring to mind as a field in which you recognise that there are numbers of students who are completing a course that do need a subsidy to do so. So, those number of places in those sorts of fields will be guaranteed under our setting, a merits-based process for people to apply and then, of course, they’ll be able to take it off to the university of their choice.

I do recognise that UWA and Melbourne have unique settings at present. We had a conversation in the office today, I’m not sure if the meetings have been set up, about the need to meet with Dawn and Glyn relatively quickly to talk about those aspects and we’ll absolutely do that and welcome getting your feedback. I should say, as well in relation to the post-grad scholarships proposal, that it was an idea that came from the sector and from submissions. I won’t necessarily dob in who, you can all go away and trawl your way through the submissions if you like, but in sitting around the table with the expert working group canvassing summaries of different submissions and talking about, well, ‘how do we apply a more consistent policy framework across all the levels of qualifications?’, it was this idea that in the end stood out as a means to do so for post-grad places without, of course, creating the enormous cost that a demand-driven program would in that sense.

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister, we’ve got Peter Derbyshire from the Postgraduate Association. 

Peter Derbyshire: Thank you again, Minister. I look forward working with you in regards to postgraduate placements. I’m hoping you’ll undertake some of our advice and work with us on this particular issue. But I did have a question in regards to HECS and HELP changes. I was just wondering if they were going to be retrospective at all, or whether they’re going to take into account everyone, or be sort of grandfathered in? Because one would expect, as with a home loan, you don’t kind of change the aspects of a loan, without the other person signing off on it. 

Simon Birmingham: Peter of course HELP arrangements are repaid through the tax system. And when governments make changes to income tax rates or company tax rates or the like, they do apply universally. And the same will be the case in relation HELP repayments, that changes – as has been past practice with any changes to HELP repayments and settings – changes will apply to all those who hold a HELP debt at that point in time, consistent with all other such tax policy arrangements. 

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister. Professor Margaret Gardner, Vice-Chancellor of Monash University and incoming Chair of Universities Australia. 

Margaret Gardner: Thank you Minister and thank you for your exposition of the proposal that will be put as part of the Budget. Can I take you to the broader question of Australia’s higher education as Australia’s largest service export and its third largest export – a reputation that’s based on the quality of the higher education system? And I wondered if you could outline for us, how you intend to message to the world at large, to the student population that we draw in competition across the world, about the ongoing quality of the higher education system in Australia in the face of yet another set of cuts to the funding to that system?

Simon Birmingham: Margaret a few fronts, I’d say. Firstly that as a sector, as a sector, you are unquestionably of high quality, achieving strong performance and outcomes. And that the types of measures we’re putting in place in terms of encouraging greater interaction with industry, greater work experience units for students, that those types of measures will only continue to enhance and lift the quality of experience for students and the opportunity for universities to innovate in their course offerings. Which I realise, in the international market of course, you’re unrestrained in being able to do so, but your capacity to be able to do so at sub-bachelor levels and with new industry placements will of course be a new opportunity for a new horizon and frontier of teaching and learning that engages better with the workforce. That it ensures students have a quality of experience that develops the range of skills – not just technical skills, but the collaborative skills, the engagement skills, that I know many of you work so hard to achieve at present, that with some financial support for work experience and engagement, hopefully you can do more of in the future. 

In terms of the perceptions of Budget settings and a very modest efficiency dividend being applied to universities – well I guess the best thing to say at a global level is our universities are so successful and have been such good administrators, that we believe they can absorb such an efficiency dividend without it having any detrimental impact on their bottom lines, or on their teaching and learning activities. That we’re confident, having done the analysis, that there is good reason that this policy approach doesn’t cause any risk or damage to our universities, but does – as I’ve emphasised before – give us a budget approach and a financial approach for funding universities at a domestic level, that is actually sustainable for the long term, rather than finding that others – whether it’s our Government, or future governments, keep coming back to this place. 

Let’s not forget, we talked before about whether or not- about the previous reform proposals of the Coalition. Well let’s not forget that in the dying days of the previous government, there were around $6 billion of different savings measures that were announced and sought to be applied to the sector, including an efficiency dividend that they then changed their mind post-election and deposed. We’re proposing a package that over the forward estimates has a $2.8 billion impact – less than half of what the Labor Party’s proposal was before. But don’t think that if nothing happens over the next couple of years and all the same settings apply, but all the same demands continue to be made, for us to look at improving the way HEPPP works, expansion of sub-bachelor places, other reforms, that a new government – should that occur – won’t look at doing exactly the same thing they’ve done in the past. 

We were at least honest enough to go into the last election saying, savings had to be made. We went to the last election with an even higher figure than what we’ve come out with in the Budget process tonight. Being open about the types of options that were under consideration, including higher student fees, including faster repayment of HELP loans, including some level of reduction in CSPs. I think we’ve been very open at every step of the process, and now is an opportunity to get a reasoned and well-considered outcome, rather than risk other measures in the future, that could jeopardise things that many of you hold dear. 

Belinda Robinson: I’ve got a question here Minister. How is Australia ever expected to stay ahead of the innovation game, if it’s going to be so expensive to undertake STEM studies here?And is this- the cuts to universities, a little short-sighted, to paraphrase it, it’s quite long. 

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] I’m sure I’ll probably receive the email or the message as well. In terms of thinking about STEM studies, so a science student. Let’s have a look at some of the various impacts here. A science student commencing a three year course in 2018, their fees will increase by around $1000. The totality of their science degree will cost around $29,000, up from around $28,000. But, because we recognise that science is a discipline that is more expensive to teach, a discipline that in some areas has greater public benefit compared with the private benefit, the government provides vastly more than 54 per cent of the subsidy in relation to science. The government will continue to provide $52,800 in subsidies through the CGS for that three year science degree. Significantly more than the fees that a student would incur and continuing the practice of recognising that under the cluster-funding arrangements, different disciplines for good reasons, attract higher levels of taxpayer support. 

Belinda Robinson: Thank you Minister. Jane den Hollander, from- Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University. 

Jane den Hollander: Thank you Minister. Thank you for that. Interesting, I haven’t got through it all yet, but I will. But I want to talk to you about the 7.5 per cent contingency CGS, which is actually much more than the efficiency dividend and I presume is not subject to legislation. And what it is you’re going to do in 2019. So QILT, first of all the name, I think well done, change it. 

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] Ideas still welcome, Jane. 

Jane den Hollander: It’s not a blanket. But what I’m much more interested in is that- the sector has started to diversify, we’ve started to be different. Deakin is now different from Western Sydney. Monash, Deakin and Melbourne pride themselves on serving very different parts of the market. When I look at QILT, you force us to points of similarity. Some of the questions map onto each other. One of the questions – learner engagement as you know is completely la la and no one in the sector gets more than about 65. So in the space of a year, what I’m asking you for, is could you take us through what the consultation will be and what are the major issues of the QILT – or whichever performance indicators that you wish to use – and how we’ll define those? 

Because I think that’s going to be quite interesting, because what Deakin does is materially different from every other university in the room and rightly so. You know about Warrnambool, you would know that we have Geelong and you’d know that we have Melbourne. Very, very different student cohorts. And so I’m interested to know that the contingent funding – I’ve no difficulty with that – but if you lose some, you’re losing more than you’re losing in the efficiency dividend. So it is something that probably we should all focus on more than the efficiency dividend and I take your point on that. 

And there’s one- just one other observation I’d want to make if you could make a comment. The cuts are the cuts and the reforms are the reforms and as you say, we have to do our lifting. 457 visas and PR are now consuming us all at the same time and we almost have a mix of things. What the sector needs is policy certainty across all of those fronts, but QILT remains quite an interesting sleeper for me now. 

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Jane. And look I understand that tomorrow, in addition to briefings from my department, there are briefings from Immigration, which I hope and trust will set at ease some of the concerns around some of the 457 changes. I think we sought to move relatively quickly to try to give certainty around researchers and academics and lecturers, but I realise there are some other, more granular questions that need to be answered. We of course don’t want to do anything that jeopardises international higher education standing. Nor do we want to wake up and find that in years to come the settings have drifted into a sense of education pathways being overly manipulated for immigration purposes. Where it’s a genuine outcome, that’s all well and good, but it’s got to strike the right balance and that’s what we’re very conscious of through there. 

In terms of QILT and the new proposed performance payment measure, as I sought to emphasize before – and I’ll try to put it more directly – I think there will absolutely need to be a requirement that it’s a horses for courses type negotiation of what those KPIs are. That you are, as I indicated, vastly different institutions and that we couldn’t possibly say we expect the same uplift in the same metric, by each university to the same ratio. Because that wouldn’t make sense and wouldn’t really be able to be fairly applied. But we can – and I think we should – be working with you over the next 12 months to say, in terms of the measures that we can apply to student success – student success being derived by retention, completion, employment – in terms of those types of measures, how is it that we can best structure that? If need be, most likely, with each and every one of you individually, to ensure that there is a measure that demonstrates that we’re making continued enhancements, and or maintaining outstanding performance across those different sectors. 

And I guess if I were to bring it back to how it ties in to some of the other areas of the reforms. In deciding to open up places at the sub-bachelor level, I hope and trust that that won’t just be seen as an opportunity for new numbers of students to be enrolled – there will be some of that. But I hope that the sector also recognises that in some instances, there are students enrolling in bachelor-level courses, where commencing a sub-bachelor course and quite possibly completing at that sub-bachelor course, will be the best outcome for that student in terms of their capacity to complete, and or in terms of the likely employment outcomes that they’re receive. And that if we have the right settings for optimising retention, completion, employment, then we have the right settings for universities to be making the best decisions in the best interest in students around those types of enrolment factors. 

But it won’t be easy. It will have to be legislated. So there’s a process to it to go through there. Obviously how the metric works would – for simplicity purposes I suspect, be something best struck in regulation or guidelines. But actually having a performance payment is something that we will have to work through a legislative process with. We’ll do that in tandem with the sector. And rather than come here tonight and say: and to design the performance payment I’ve engaged the Productivity Commission, or asked the wonderful Lisa Paul or anybody else to do so, I thought it best that with this measure, we announce it. And then we’ll sit down with Belinda and the other representatives, to work through what the best process is to get expert advice and input as to how we can make sure that it works effectively. 

Belinda Robinson: Minister I’m conscious that we are well and truly over time. I’m hoping you could answer two more questions- actually three because …

Simon Birmingham: You’ve got a sneaky one of your own, have you Belinda?

Belinda Robinson: Well no, I’ve got- no I don’t. Well I do, I’ve got …


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] You’ll get your own session. 

Belinda Robinson: But this might be a very quick one and I’ve clearly been way too generous in handing out my mobile number, because I’m getting messages through- and Facebook Messenger, through text messages as well. But this is a quick one I hope for you. Re-HEPPP and funding for enabling places from 2019, you mentioned that this would a cyclical competitive process. Will this process take into account geography, as well as success in performance? Not all challenges and successful outcomes are due to lack of institutional diligence.

Simon Birmingham: Yes, I think is the- there we go, shortest answer of the night. 

Belinda Robinson: Thank you. Professor Peter Dawkins from Victoria University. 

Peter Dawkins: Minister, I’d like to ask you about the HEPPP program, the Higher Education Participation Program. I think at a time when we’re planning an increase in the share of costs to students, it is very important to have a very strong participation and equity element in the package. And it is pleasing that you are going to legislate to embed HEPPP for the long term and that’s a definite positive. There are three elements that you announced in the HEPPP program, which I think you said would enhance the quality of the program and improve the opportunities for students for more disadvantaged backgrounds to participate. And just wondered if you could elaborate why you think these changes will have that positive impact?

Simon Birmingham: Peter, I did announce those three components in terms of a loading, and a guaranteed indexed loading that applies. Now I emphasise in relation to the loading, that in no way is expected that a university is then required to invest that loading into that student. The same autonomy and flexibility you have today in relation to your HEPPP funding will apply, where if a university believes that it gets the result in terms of its HEPPP funding by investing it in activities like the Children’s University – as a number of institutions do to try to lift ambition back at the school level – then that’s a perfectly reasonable source of expenditure. As of course is supporting directly those whom you enrol. 

Now there’s a performance funding measure attached to HEPPP – $13.3 million, which is relatively modest, compared with the $500 million plus figure of the overall HEPPP pool. But it does, in terms of the HEPPP funding, have that performance element. Again, it must and would relate as well, to the overall performance payment arrangement too. That an individual institution’s metrics about their priorities and their ability to lift successful retention and completion and the employment outcomes, would be part of that. So that would then be part of an institution’s thinking about how and where they would apply their HEPPP loading. Probably in part been influenced in the thinking about applying a loading here by a couple of things. Firstly, to try to give you all certainty in this process, because I know HEPPP, in my now 18 months in the job, has been the one thing that everybody of course has constantly been nervous about, because of the way in which it’s str