University of Wollongong lashes Greens

University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings has slammed Greens senator Lee Rhiannon’s claims the university is in trouble, calling it “political hyperbole of the worst sort”.

On Tuesday, the Mercury reported Ms Rhiannon’s response to the Kemp-Norton review of university funding.

 Ms Rhiannon said: ‘‘The University of Wollongong is already facing a period of extreme uncertainty with chronic underfunding for courses, teachers and students” – an assertion Professor Wellings was quick to refute.

“The University of Wollongong is far from struggling. We have just had substantial growth in the enrolment of Australian undergraduate students, and are performing extremely well,” he said in a statement. 

UOW vice-chancellor Paul Wellings. Picture GREG TOTMAN

UOW vice-chancellor Paul Wellings. Picture GREG TOTMAN

“Last year we gained record Australian Research Council funding ... It seems the Greens were trying to score some political points at our expense, which is very disappointing.”

Speaking to the Mercury directly on Tuesday, Prof Wellings went further in his criticism.

“It was a surprise, because the Greens have never spoken to me about the university’s current position.

“That press release was political hyperbole of the worst sort. They should know better.”

On the Kemp-Norton report generally, which suggested a suite of sweeping changes including a fee on HECS-HELP loans, scrapping enrolment targets for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and looking to fund private education providers, Prof Wellings had mixed views.

It was perfectly sensible to look at the criteria by which people repaid accumulated debt, he said.

“Current arrangements were made under different economic circumstances … already there is a substantial default rate on loans and quite large variances in repayment.”

Prof Wellings said he would not support any moves to force students to pay tuition costs up front, but said the repayment scheme needed re-examining.

 He also said he would not support dismantling programs which assisted disadvantaged students to access university.

“If scrapping the targets saves red tape, that’s a good thing. But if it also scraps the incentives and programs into university, that would be a tragedy,” he said.