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SA senator defends supporting "far from ideal" uni package

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The SA cross-bench senator whose support will deliver the Morrison Government’s controversial university funding Bill says he will vote for it despite conceding it is “far from ideal” and will leave humanities, law and commerce students with debts of up to $50,000.

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Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff and fellow party member and Lower House MP Rebekah Sharkie backed the Bill in a deal to to create around 30,000 more places for students, including 12,000 more for SA universities over four years.

The Morrison government’s higher education reforms are designed to funnel university students into “job-ready” degrees, with fees for science and engineering courses to be cut and the cost of law and humanities units dramatically increased.

The government argues the shake-up will create tens of thousands of places and leave universities no worse off – a claim contested by many in the university sector.

Griff said that until his party’s negotiations, South Australian universities’ growth rate would have been stuck at CPI, while Sharkie supported the Bill’s key aim to “incentivise students to study in fields where we have serious skills shortages”.

But Griff has acknowledged the changes would mean humanities, law and commerce students finish university with debts of up to $50,000.

“This package is far from ideal. We would have preferred to vote for a package that provided universities with better long-term funding,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

Former Centre Alliance SA senator Rex Patrick, who recently left the party to become an independent, has lashed his former colleagues’ support for the Bill, as has SA Labor senator Marielle Smith.

“If he doesn’t think this is ideal, if he doesn’t think this is the Australia we want to see in an ideal world, he could do something about it,” she told the chamber.

“You’ve chosen to sell out the aspirations of young people in Australia.”

Independent Jacqui Lambie will also vote against the legislation, while Pauline Hanson is backing it in exchange for a legal “academic freedom” definition some universities warn will make it harder to discipline racist and sexist academics.

-with AAP

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