Labor is making a pledge for more university funding and cheaper courses in its first challenge to the Turnbull government.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten will release a policy today to boost university funding by nearly $4 billion — although offsetting savings measures mean the policy would cost $2.5 billion over four years.
In contrast to the government’s plan for deregulating fees, the Labor plan focuses on more spending and tighter rules.
It promises to invest $9,000 more per student on average over the next decade in a so-called “student funding guarantee”.
Labor’s higher education spokesman Kim Carr said that would remove the need for higher fees and provide certainty for universities.
He said it would mean significantly cheaper courses than the government’s policy.
“In dentistry the cost of a degree under Labor would be $52,000, under Mr Turnbull it will be $148,000,” Senator Carr said.
“In medicine, $52,000 under Labor, $155,000 under Mr Turnbull.”
Labor’s plan also aims to cut the drop-out rate so that 20,000 more students each year actually finish their courses.
“At the moment there are one in four students who are not completing after eight years at university,” Senator Carr said.
“We can probably increase the number of graduates who are completing by 20,000 a year and we will do so, not by giving everyone a tick and flick and passing.
“But by ensuring that we lift the standards of the teaching that is offered in our universities.”
Senator Carr also raised concerns about the low tertiary entrance scores being accepted at some universities.
“We know that there are people that are entering the universities with entrance scores of less than 30,” he said.
“We also know that people who do enter university with entrance scores between 30 and 50 have a one in two chance of dropping out, that is simply not satisfactory, it is bad news for the individuals, it is also bad news for the public.”
He said it results in students ending up with debts and no degree.
Senator Carr said Labor would have a higher education commission to ensure the increased Government funding delivers better results.
Malcolm Turnbull also spoke on university on Monday, foreshadowing changes to university reforms, which have been rejected twice by the Senate.
The new Prime Minister confirmed plans to deregulate the sector would be on his government’s agenda, but conceded there were “political realities” to deal with.
“If you can’t get something through the Senate, I would say it’s highly possible that you could change it to something that will get through the Senate,” he told ABC radio on Monday.