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Federal government pushes to pass uni cuts

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September 12, 2017

The higher education sector argues the government's changes will lead to students paying more.

The battle over the future of university funding will heat up as the Turnbull government seeks parliament's approval for its changes in time for cuts to take effect in 2018.

The government's higher education package is set to be debated on Tuesday for the first time since it was introduced in budget week back in May.

It aims to cut university teaching funding in 2018 and 2019, raise student fees, lower the threshold for student loans so they have to be repaid sooner, and tie a portion of funding to performance measures such as student retention.

The higher education sector is opposed to the changes, saying they will lead to students paying more but getting less.

Universities Australia released polling on Tuesday showing 62 per cent of Australians opposed the cuts.

The sentiment was strongest in South Australia and Victoria, the online poll done for the peak body by JWS Research in July found.

"This confirms that the government's plan to impose a $2.8 billion cut on universities and students is way out of kilter with community sentiment," Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham argues universities have had enormous growth in funding and they should be able to use economies of scale to find efficiencies.

"There is nothing for universities to fear out of the changes we're proposing," Senator Birmingham told Sky News.

"They need to be responsible for every single taxpayer dollar, every single student dollar they have."

Labor and the Greens oppose the changes, meaning the government has to rely on the Senate crossbench to pass the legislation.

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek says it's unreasonable of the government to expect they'll agree.

"I've had extensive conversations with a number of crossbenchers over many weeks now and they all share my concerns about higher fees, repaid sooner, for a poorer quality education," she told reporters.

The Nick Xenophon Team, which has three of the 10 votes the government needs, is yet to decide its position but has flagged serious concerns with the package.

Conservative crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm and Cory Bernardi have warned if the government waters down the cuts too much to win NXT support it will lose their votes.

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