Deregulation uncertainty leaves Melbourne University unable to budget

The University of Melbourne has been unable to draw up a budget for next year due to uncertainty about the federal government’s plans for deregulation, according to Vice Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis.

In an email to staff this morning, Professor Davis said that because of the “known unknowns” concerning higher education funding in coming years, the university was unable to plan with confidence for next year, or beyond that.

Professor Davis said: “There are too many known unknowns. Key financial measures for the sector remain untested before the Senate. Should the government’s plans for deregulation not prevail, as many predict, who knows what policy settings will follow?”

He said the university’s Planning and Budget Committee had, in the past, held an annual two-day event to draw up a budget for the following year and make estimates for the next three years.

However this year it was unable to provide any estimates for the next three years. It was also unable to “predict with confidence likely minimum public funding for 2015”, according to Professor Davis.

The committee could only provide a “likely” budget for 2015.

This year the federal government included cuts to higher education funding in its budget. The legislation is currently being debated over in the Senate. It includes university fee deregulation and raising the interest rate on student loans.

Several parties, including the Australian Labor Party, the Greens and the Palmer United Party, have said they will block the changes in the Senate, and the government has indicated it may compromise on some measures.

Professor Davis said the university’s budget committee will meet again in April 2015. He said he hoped there would be more detailed news about higher education by that time.

“We aspire to be autonomous, independent institutions, speaking without fear or favour to the great issues of the day through teaching, research and engagement. Yet our lived reality is the experience of 2014, waiting for the Senate to decide what it will allow governments to fund or universities to charge,” he said in his email to staff.

“This need to plan amid uncertainty is a reminder that universities do not control their fate. Under present arrangements governments, state and federal, define many choices for universities,” Professor Davis wrote.

Professor Davis has been a supporter of fee deregulation, but has also opposed cuts in public funding for universities.

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