Budget 2021: Private higher education providers to get $53 million support package, as Frydenberg hints at cybersecurity focus

Alan Tudge

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge is calling for ‘new ideas on how we can increase collaboration between business and universities’. Source: AAP/Lukas Coch

Private higher education providers that previously relied on international students will receive a $53 million support package in this year’s federal budget, as they continue to be affected by national border closures. 

Announced by Education Minister Alan Tudge on Friday, the support measures will be used to encourage non-university higher education providers to adapt their businesses models to focus more on Australian students, while also offering grants to encourage the providers to expand their online and offshore courses. 

The $53 million funding package will include $26.1 million for an extra 5000 short course places in 2021-22 for Australian students; $9.4 million for an innovation fund to provide grants of up to $150,000 for providers to deliver their courses online or offshore; and $17.7 million to further pause fees and charges from a number of government regulators and agencies until the end of December this year. 

The government will also offer further FEE-HELP loan fee exemptions for around 30,000 existing and prospective students until the end of the year, and reduce fee reporting requirements for providers, in a budget measure that is expected to save around $7 million a year and benefit around 1,200 private education providers.

In a statement, Minister Tudge said the measures are designed to help non-university providers stay open while there are no new international students coming to Australia. 

“International students will be welcomed back when conditions allow, and these measures will support providers to maintain as much capacity as possible in the meantime,” he said. 

International student enrolments are down across both universities and non-university higher education providers, as well as at English-language providers. 

The prospect of no new international students arriving this year, and the end of JobKeeper, has prompted concerns about the viability of some private higher education providers, according to the Australian Financial Review. 

The AFR reports that insolvency firm Worrells has this week applied to the federal government’s Tuition Protection Service for student assistance on behalf of two collages.

Government will seek to ‘lure’ businesses and individuals to Australia

Meanwhile, the government is also finalising budget measures to match skills training to areas of demand in the economy and to attract businesses and international talent to the country. 

According to the AFR, the budget will contain tax and regulation incentives to ‘lure’ businesses to Australia, which is seen internationally as an attractive destination because of its efforts to suppress COVID-19. 

“There is a level of stability and calm and also lifestyle, which is the envy of the world,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday. 

The Treasurer also indicated on Thursday that cyber technology skills may be one area of focus in the government’s efforts to address the country’s skills needs. 

“Everyone is going to have a great need for those technical skills going forward so we need to be able to produce in Australia graduates with those skills,” he said. 

Members of the business community, including CPA Australia, have called for the government to invest more in cybersecurity in this year’s budget. 

Kurt Hansen, co-chief executive of ASX-listed cybersecurity company Tesserent, says cybersecurity incidents are on the rise and the government should allocate more funding towards addressing challenges that not only threaten Australia’s national security, but are also “taking a toll on Australian businesses”. 

While the government has committed $1.66 billion over 10 years in cyber security grants, Hansen tells SmartCompany the roll-out of this program has been “somewhat complex and difficult at times to access”. 

“We would hope to gain clarity in the budget about the amount that has already been spent to date and what is remaining for private companies to access,” he says. 

“Australian businesses need fast and simple access to the support on offer.”

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