University of Newcastle under pressure to safeguard student places

THE University of Newcastle (UON) will have its work cut out to ensure the federal government freeze on funding to universities doesn’t impact its ability to offer places to students.

A UON spokeswoman said the university was “extremely disappointed” with the government decision to freeze funding to universities for two years, before moving to a competitive system that involves meeting “performance targets” and capping funding increases at the growth rate of the working age population. She said it would have a “long-term negative impact on students and universities”. “The timing of these changes has imposed significant pressure on universities to find equitable solutions for students seeking to enter university.”

The spokeswoman said UON did not intend to cut student places for 2018 and had already made 11,000 offers to students for study this year, with further offer rounds remaining.

“UON will work to ensure the... cuts do not impact our ability to welcome suitably qualified students into their program of choice in 2019,” she said. “Nevertheless, these cuts will pose a complex and significant challenge for UON and universities across Australia. We will continue to lobby seriously for the reversal of these cuts and the impact they will have on students, graduates and our city and regions.”

When asked if UON would use its $446 million in reserves to safeguard student places, the spokeswoman said the funds were “largely committed to unspent research grants, philanthropic donations, unspent capital grants and working capital”. “Beyond those commitments, the remaining funds are earmarked for ongoing investment in order to continue to provide our students and staff with world class learning, teaching and research facilities and services.”

President of the National Tertiary Education Union’s Newcastle branch, Associate Professor Tom Griffiths, said the union was concerned the freeze would be used to justify further job cuts for staff “already at breaking point”. 

Universities Australia (UA) chief executive Belinda Robinson said modelling showed 9500 places overall would go unfunded in 2018, but the impact of the freeze would vary between institutions.  “In 2018 and beyond, universities will struggle to cope with commitments already factored into their budgets,” she said. “As government funding recedes, universities will also be under pressure to enrol fewer students in expensive but crucial courses.”

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