MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:00): I thank the member for his question. I am troubled by the cuts at universities in Victoria, whether they be course cuts or to funding to different organisations on campus and indeed of course staff cuts as well. Course cuts reduce the choices available to students and can impact negatively on workforce supply and the state’s social and cultural life, as you quite accurately point out, Mr Davis. Of course losing a job is a terrible blow for any worker and their family, and my heart goes out to those who are affected by the variety of announcements that have been made.
But with that said, once again I need to be clear to the house where the state responsibilities are when it comes to universities. Universities are autonomous, self-governing institutions regulated by the commonwealth. Consequently the state no longer exercises control over university programs. The legislation reflects this fact. Now, they are not my words, Mr Davis; they are actually the words of Mr Rich-Phillips, who in the same speech in this place in 2013 said:
The university acts give the universities autonomy in relation to their internal governance structures and financial management.
I agree with Mr Rich-Phillips. It is not my role to intervene in the operational decisions they make. As we all know, the pandemic has created significant shortfalls in university revenues, particularly due to falling international student numbers, and the sector is facing significant job losses as a result of COVID-19. While the primary policy and funding responsibility of universities lies with the commonwealth, the Andrews government has made unprecedented investment in local universities to protect jobs and to support the state’s economic rebound, and this includes the $350 million higher education investment fund that I have previously outlined to the house. We did make that contribution, but we will not be pulled into cost-shifting exercises with the commonwealth.
Now, in relation to the proposed cancellation of the Greek language courses at La Trobe, I know that a number of Victorians, including some of my parliamentary colleagues, have been upset by this proposal. As they quite rightly highlighted, Greek Australians have made an enormous contribution to Victoria’s vibrant cultural life. For those who do not know already, if you or your constituents are concerned about this proposal— (Time expired)