SOUTHERN Cross University and the Federal Government are on a collision course following a decision announced to staff today by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Shoemaker.
In the MYEFO statement prior to Christmas 2017, Education Minister Simon Birmingham introduced measures to freeze all funding for Australian public universities at 2017 levels.
For 2018 and 2019, the Minister said each institution would only get the amount of Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) funding that it was allocated in 2017, regardless of demand or growth, an effective cut of $2.2 billion from the education sector.
It now appears university chiefs including Professor Shoemaker intend to put the gloves on and have decided not to sign the government offer.
That again casts a shadow over the planned Allied Health building at Coffs Harbour campus.
"This is dire for Australian higher education and is particularly difficult for regional universities such as ours," Professor Shoemaker wrote in the email to staff.
"In pragmatic terms this means that in 2018 Southern Cross will receive Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding - or load - for no more than 7,030 Equivalent Full-time Students (EFTSL).
"In recent years our funding has hovered around this 7,000 EFTSL mark but as you know we embarked last year on an ambitious plan to grow load and student numbers at Lismore, Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast.
"We have introduced new degrees like Osteopathy at the Gold Coast, Coastal Systems Engineering at Lismore and a Double Degree in Law and Psychology at Lismore and Coffs Harbour.
"For example, we are well on track to commence construction of our new $12 million Allied Health Building at Coffs Harbour with an intended opening date of mid-2019.
"We have big plans to expand our offerings there in Indigenous health, in occupational therapy, in mental health nursing and exercise science.
"The MYEFO freeze put all of that at risk.
"Importantly, we decided not to sign our new Federal Funding Agreement (at this frozen level) until the crucial matters we raised (such as potential student load for the new Coffs Harbour building) had been clarified."
Professor Shoemaker said his decision was backed at an extraordinary finance committee meeting on January 23.
"My decision not to sign our Funding Agreement was strongly supported despite the fact that we were one of only two Australian universities not to do so.
"Put simply we have not taken this lying down."
He also confirmed the decision would cause no disruption to current courses including those beginning this year.