Cuts a threat to uni access

ENSURING equity of access to higher education did not compromise its quality, University of Newcastle vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen said yesterday.

Professor McMillen was responding to reports that the new federal government would cut targets to lift participation by disadvantaged students.

New Education Minister Christopher Pyne has also flagged a review of the demand-driven system for university places, with the possibility of student numbers once again being capped.

And he wants to remove the student services and amenities fee, introduced by the Labor government to replace the former system of compulsory student unionism.

The University of Newcastle was among the first in Australia to introduce enabling programs and is today the largest provider.

The proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds enrolled at the university is 27per cent, significantly higher than the national average of 16per cent.

It also has the highest number of indigenous students of any Australian university.

Professor McMillen said the difference in the success rates of students from low socio-economic backgrounds compared to other students was about 0.3per cent.

‘‘I get concerned when people inadvertently infer that equity is in any way exclusive of excellence,’’ Professor McMillen said.

‘‘Equity is about making sure people who come into the university through different pathways are enabled to succeed in a first-rate degree. Does it need extra preparation and support? Yes.’’

On the matter of the student services fee, Professor McMillen said the university had collected about $6.6million this year, which had been distributed to student service providers.

Professor McMillen said that after some initial difficulties, the fee arrangement had worked well.

‘‘We are seeing some really good projects on the ground, which give students confidence and I think that’s the key,’’ she said.

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