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Australia: Queensland dual-sector university likely

University of QueenslandQueensland will proceed with its first dual-sector university. However the commitment doesn’t appear to be iron-clad, with state Cabinet yet to consider the proposal.

Education and Training Minister John-Paul Langbroek signalled that a proposed merger of Central Queensland’s university and TAFE, which has been on the backburner since the March state election, would go ahead.

“We’re absolutely committed to doing it,” he told the Australian Council for Private Education and Training’s national conference. “[But] we want to make sure if we do it, we get it right.”

The merger has attracted wide support and appeared certain to proceed after it was earmarked $74 million from the federal government’s structural adjustment and education investment funds. However, the Liberal National Party poured cold water on the proposal in the lead-up to this year’s election, saying it had reservations over the financial implications.

Since assuming office Mr Langbroek has considered financial appraisals including a due diligence report from accounting firm Ernst and Young. But the issues now appear to have been resolved, with Mr Langbroek saying he was in the process of organising a Cabinet submission.

“It has to go to Cabinet because of all of the ramifications,” he told the conference, adding that he was “not at liberty to pre-empt what Cabinet might recommend”.

Mr Langbroek said he’d had “representations about this issue wherever I’ve gone since I’ve been the minister”.

Asset ownership appears to be a major sticking point. “TAFE has a number of resources that are state-owned. We can’t just hand them over without potential consequences.”

Central Queensland University’s future in the new demand-driven higher education system was also a consideration. “There are issues within regional universities who’ve had to come up with a freed up university model,” Mr Langbroek said.

“The last couple of years have been good. We need to make sure the future’s going to be good as well, so that we don’t have something that doesn’t work.”

He also committed Queensland to a more open training market, with new opportunities for private colleges to obtain government training funds. But he said he would avoid the mistakes made in Victoria’s open market.

“Victoria is pulling back on a system that was made too free and easy,” he said.

“When I was in opposition, people were saying to me that you should consider doing what they’re doing in Victoria. Three to four years on we’re now seeing the results of a budget that went out of control.

“That’s why it’s nice coming to this a bit later, to see the effects of some of those policy decisions.”

Mr Langbroek said Queensland wouldn’t “emasculate TAFE”.

“We want a strong public provider in Queensland with a strong brand,” he said. (The Australian)

“We don’t want it to be seen as a second best option. But we also want the market to be more contestable.”

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