University of Newcastle says $35 million in cuts just the start under Turnbull government plan

'REALLY, REALLY TOUGH ON UNIVERSITIES': University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen supports calls to scrap a proposed efficiency dividend on universities. Picture: Wayne Taylor
'REALLY, REALLY TOUGH ON UNIVERSITIES': University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen supports calls to scrap a proposed efficiency dividend on universities. Picture: Wayne Taylor

THE University of Newcastle faces a $35 million funding cut in the next four years under the Turnbull government’s higher education reforms, and says it stands to lose three times that amount over a decade.

A new “efficiency dividend” will cause the university to miss out on at least $100 million between 2019 and 2029 if the government’s reforms pass Parliament, the university told a Senate inquiry.

And as an early wound from the cuts, Newcastle would lose $35.5 million in base funding between 2018 and 2021, with only the universities of Western Sydney, Sydney and NSW faring worse in the state.

“This is really, really tough on universities,” University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen said.

“We’ve already contributed to the fiscal efficiencies of the government. You can’t continue on that basis.”

The government’s higher education package, announced in May alongside the “Gonski 2.0” school funding changes, would impose the efficiency dividend on universities, increase student fees by 7.5 per cent and squeeze the HECS repayment threshold from $55,874 to $42,000.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said university teaching revenue would grow in the next four years by 23 per cent.

The projected increase for Newcastle during the period is 8.9 per cent.

“Our plan delivers higher real per student funding than even just a few years ago, with continuing record numbers of total students, so it’s clear that universities can succeed within these reforms,” Mr Birmingham said.

“The facts are that real per student funding will still be higher than previous years when all or nearly every university was running a surplus, even with significantly fewer students.”

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, the University of Newcastle called for the efficiency dividend to be scrapped and the student fee increase withheld, pending further consultation with the universities and taking into account their “different missions and demographic profiles”. 

Newcastle caters to the sixth-most low socio-economic students of any Australian university per capita, it said in its Senate submission, and half of those are the first member of their family to attend university.

Indigenous students make up 3.6 per cent of Newcastle enrolments, with the “milestone” of 1000 Indigenous students reached for the first time last year.

“UoN is disappointed that the government has chosen to place this record of performance at risk by proceeding with further cuts to university funding,” the university’s submission says.

The university has a 5.2 per cent operating surplus. In May, Professor McMillen defended a decision to shed 30 jobs over two years from non-academic areas such as human resources and finance.