National

Nationals demand changes to uni overhaul

By AAP Newswire

An internal coalition fight has erupted over universities, with the Nationals and Liberals at odds over controversial reforms.

The junior coalition partner is pushing back against plans to classify social work, mental health and behavioural science courses as humanities.

Under Education Minister Dan Tehan's reforms, the cost of humanities degrees would more than double in a bid to steer students towards areas like maths and teaching.

Regional Education Minister and Nationals MP Andrew Gee is concerned the package could fuel inequality in the country.

"We believe this would only serve to further increase the maldistribution of mental health workers in country Australia," he said on Tuesday.

"It also has the potential to impact women and mature students looking to upskill and move into higher paid jobs."

Mr Gee's attack on the plan blindsided education bureaucrats, with top-ranking officials telling a Senate hearing Mr Gee failed to raise concerns with them.

Education Department secretary Michele Bruniges said she couldn't remember a minister attacking reforms in his own portfolio through the media.

"I don't recall an instance where I can think in my career where that's occurred," she told the hearing.

Despite being briefed six times about the universities package, the inquiry heard Mr Gee didn't raise concerns with officials before launching the criticism.

But deputy secretary Rob Heferen later sought to clarify his statement, saying the minister did raise concerns but not with the same "intensity".

The Nationals will push for social work, mental health and behavioural science to be aligned with allied health courses.

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said Mr Gee and Mr Tehan were having a public fight rather than focusing on education.

"This package is pretty friendless," she told the ABC.

"I'm not surprised the Nationals' minister Andrew Gee is critical of this package - most people are."

Mr Tehan said the government had released draft legislation for consultation on Tuesday.

"We will consider all feedback as part of drafting the final legislation that is put to parliament," he said.

The Nationals also want the government to ensure all students enrolled in a course before January next year won't pay more.

Mr Gee said the original proposal would have given students until the start of 2024 to finish or face higher fees.

But a departmental spokesman said there was no expiry date on grandfathering within the legislation.

Mr Gee said many part-time and online students in regional areas took more than three years to complete studies while balancing work and family commitments.

The junior minister also raised concerns the $5000 tertiary access payment would encourage country kids to leave to study in the city.