Friday, May 09, 2014

University competition on fees gets Christopher Pyne's support

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has come out strongly in support of allowing Australia's universities and colleges to compete on price by deregulating what fees they can charge students.

In a speech on Thursday that sets the scene for the biggest reforms to higher education in a generation to be announced in the budget, Mr Pyne will say that price competition, freedom from red tape, and giving transparent information to students about study options are critical to improving Australia's higher education system.

He will say if Australia is to achieve world class status it will "require government to change the way it treats universities and colleges, and to give them more freedom to do what they do best".

"If universities and colleges were able to compete on price, it would mean they must have a greater focus on meeting the needs of students.

"They would need to continuously improve the teaching and learning they offer to attract students," he says in the speech.

Mr Pyne says the budget will include a "fair and balanced higher education and research reform package".

He says the reforms will draw on the last week's audit commission report which recommended university fee deregulation and called for students to pay more.

In his speech, Mr Pyne does not say whether he expects fees for undergraduate university degrees to rise as a result of deregulation but will say that growth in university participation is "putting a strain on our ability to support so many students".

His speech also strongly endorses Australia's income contingent loan system for higher education fees, known as HECS.

Mr Pyne will say the current system, which allows students to study at university "without them having to pay a dollar up-front" must continue.

"I am committed to strengthening this loan scheme to ensure it is affordable for students and the taxpayer into the future and remains a central component of our approach to higher education."

Mr Pyne will say Australia's higher education system risked being left behind, particularly by China.

"Chinese universities are gaining in international standing at a rapid pace, and ours are not," the speech says.

He says much work remains to be done on his plans for higher education reforms.

He says if the government accepts the recent recommendation of the Kemp-Norton review to expose universities to more competition from private colleges and TAFEs, then "there would need to be careful attention given to how this is done".

The Kemp-Norton report called for the playing field to be levelled, with non-university higher education providers also to receive Commonwealth subsidies with their students eligible for HECS loans.

However, in his speech Mr Pyne says it would be "appropriate" for non-university education providers "to be funded at a lower rate than universities" because they do not need to fund research activities. He also strongly backs another Kemp-Norton recommendation for the federal government to subsidise pathway programs into universities and to offer HECS loans to help students pay the fees.

He says the higher education and research reforms to be announced in the budget will respond to last week's audit commission recommendations.


Jobs market shows more strength

Employment rose for a fourth straight month in April, supporting the Reserve Bank of Australia’s view the jobless rate might be close to peaking and bringing forward the timing of future rate hikes.

Companies and employers added 14,200 jobs – almost twice as many as forecast – from March, when payrolls gained by an upwardly revised 22,000, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday. The jobless rate held at 5.8 per cent.

Economists had tipped a jobless rate of 5.9 per cent and 8800 new jobs.

The dollar jumped about a third of a cent to the day's high of 93.62 US cents on the data.

The surge in job creation counters ongoing headlines about cuts – including latest reports of 480 jobs lost in Queensland at rail operator Aurizon; 120 at steel and mining group Arrium; and 80 redundancies at Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

The labour market is confirming earlier signs of a peak in the unemployment rate and turn-up in jobs growth, said CBA economist Michael Blythe in a first reaction to the jobs numbers.

"It reinforces the RBA's shift to a neutral bias, and a trend if it continues that will see them towards a tightening bias," Mr Blythe said. "We have had a rate rise pencilled in for November for a while, and this indication of a peaking in unemployment is consistent with that."

ABS figures show the economy has so far this year generated more than 105,000 jobs, a pace of hiring that – if it continues – is likely to bring down the jobless rate, according to analysts.

“Underlying labour market conditions have clearly improved in recent months as foreshadowed by a range of forward looking indicators, including the ANZ job ads series,” said ANZ Bank economist Justin Fabo. “Encouragingly, full-time jobs growth has improved markedly so far this year.

“Further, these indicators are consistent with the unemployment rate sitting around its current level, or possibly a little lower, in the near term.”

A falling jobless rate and improved hiring – something that has been foreshadowed in business sentiment surveys and job advertisement indexes – could see a downward trend in wages growth reverse, putting fresh upward pressure on prices.

The upbeat jobs data also comes just two days after the Reserve Bank’s May interest rate meeting, at which governor Glenn Stevens conspicuously dropped warnings the jobless rate would continue rising.

The bank, which publishes revised economic forecasts on Friday, has long-maintained unemployment would peak above 6 per cent and remain around that level well into 2015.

Improved hiring, particularly in the giant services industries, suggests record-low official interest rates are spurring companies to invest and take on new staff, ultimately throwing into question how long the central bank can maintain highly stimulatory levels of monetary policy without unleashing faster inflation.

The participation rate, a measure of the labour force in proportion to the population, dropped to 64.7 per cent in April from a revised 64.8 per cent a month earlier.

New South Wales and Queensland posted employment gains, while jobs were lost in Victoria and Western Australia.


Queensland government approves mega coal mine in Galilee Basin

One in the eye for Greenies

The Queensland government has signed off on what could be the biggest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney told parliament on Thursday the proposed $16.5 billion Indian-owned Adani Carmichael coal mine project in the Galilee Basin had been approved by the state's coordinator-general.

The mine is still to receive federal approval.

But Mr Seeney said he believed it would serve a "vital role" in opening the Galilee basin, which is also home to Clive Palmer's proposed coal mine and the Hancock-GVK Alpha mine project.

"The [Carmichael] project has the potential to create 2500 construction and 3900 operational jobs," he said.

"Jobs that would be significant to the future economic prosperity of that region and to all of Queensland.

"It also includes a 189-kilometre rail line, water supply infrastructure, coal handling and processing plant and off-site infrastructure including workers' accommodation village and airport."

At full export capacity, the mine is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal per annum for export.

The coordinator-general set down 190 conditions in a 600-page report.

Mr Seeney said Adani would be required to reach "make-good agreements with all affected landholders including the identification and provision of alternative water supplies".

“Adani will also be required to contribute water monitoring data and funding to a Galilee region water resource model," Mr Seeney.

The Queensland Coordinator-General’s report has been sent to the Commonwealth environment minister for a decision.


ABC spends our money on top dollar outdoor advertising but still whines about possible budget cuts

Next time you hear the ABC screaming about not enough money – remember this.

This photo was taken on Tuesday night at the road in to Sydney domestic airport.

It's a digital advertising billboard promoting the ABC’s upcoming comedy show Jonah.

The advertising position is one of the most expensive in Sydney.

It’s considered a premium placement. For example, the position was shared with ads for Penfolds Grange, Tag Heuer watches, Mercedes Benz, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Pick the odd one out.

The ABC received $1.22 billion from the taxpayer to operate this financial year and they are screaming for more money again this year.

It’s worth noting that in the Labor years, the ABC’s funding went from $820 million in John Howard’s last budget to where we are today – in rough terms a 50% jump in 6 years.

The ABC now operates 5 radio networks, 4 digital radio stations, 3 free to air TV stations, a 24hr news dedicated channel and a massive online news/programme website – one of the biggest in the country. They employ staff to Tweet and Facebook to spread their message.

They do not need to spend our money on five star outdoor advertising positions to promote their TV shows.

Commercial TV, answerable to shareholders, would struggle to justify that.

Malcolm Turnbull, please confirm you have seen this.


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