According to former PM Malcolm Fraser,
Education is the best and most important investment that this country can make. I am not sure that our governments understand this message adequately. Over the last 20 years, governments have actually withdrawn from the funding of education and much of that has been replaced by dependence upon full fee paying students from overseas.
That might have been true for a while in the 1990s and the first half of the least decade. But not in more recent years, as the slide below shows. Some expansion under the previous planned higher education system, and then a surge from the demand driven system, has seen public funding expand very significantly.
And what happened when Mr Fraser was Prime Minister, from 1975 to 1983? Spending did go up for a while, but was then reduced. It was a period of stagnation in higher education attainment. Fraser faced significant budgetary constraints, as have most of his successors as PM.
Fraser’s government tried to introduce more private funding into higher education. It successfully legislated for an overseas student charge, but was defeated in an attempt to introduce fees for second degrees. His government did not leave a major lasting legacy in this area.
Fraser also claims that Melbourne University only gets 23% of its income from government. The annual uni finances report tells a rather different story. In 2012 the U of M received 54% of its income in direct Australian government grants, and another 9% in HELP loans financed by the Commonwealth. A further 4% came from other governments.