A crucial senator will deliver the Morrison government the final votes it needs to pass controversial university funding changes.
Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff, who hails from South Australia, will support the legislation with some changes.
Universities in his home state will receive more support and students who fail subjects in their first year will be better protected.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie said the higher education bill would deliver funding certainty to the sector while giving disadvantaged students and people from regional areas greater access study.
“With the amendments that we have negotiated with the government, we will be supporting the package,” she said.
Ms Sharkie is confident the changes will also motivate students to study in fields with skills shortages.
“It is ridiculous that year after year we churn out thousands of law graduates, many of whom will never work in law, and yet we import engineering graduates,” she said.
“Something has to change.”
The legislation is set to pass the Senate, where it is the first order of government business on Tuesday.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the “job-ready graduates” laws would provide more university places for Australian students.
He said the bill would make it cheaper to study in areas of expected job growth and provide more funding and support to regional students and universities.
But Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie said the changes – which would more than double the cost of humanities degrees while cutting fees in maths, science and other areas – would hit poor people hardest.
Senator Lambie, who will oppose the bill, has described it as a “dog’s breakfast” and taken aim at the government for being unable to prove its claim the package will lead to 100,000 new university places by 2030.
South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and independent Rex Patrick urged Senator Griff to also reject the laws.
“We believe this bill will have a negative impact on South Australia’s young people, research capacity and job creation in our state,” they said in a joint statement.
“The government’s proposed changes will be devastating long term for SA families, at a time when we actually need more options for our state’s young people to be engaged in study and training, if they are unable to work.”
The University of Adelaide has argued the bill will deliver its students a 9 per cent increase in HECS-HELP charges and reduce the university’s funding by 15 per cent.
“Any changes [the Centre Alliance] negotiate to the bill will be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone,” Senator Patrick said.
Labor argues the bill cuts $1 billion from government university funding, makes degrees more expensive and prices people out of disciplines the Coalition does not like.