Christopher Pyne
Christopher Pyne ALAN PORRITT

Final dash on higher education bill to be decided next week

EDUCATION Minister Christopher Pyne has defended his decision to link $150 million in research funds to higher education deregulation, as he pins his hopes on passing the reforms next week.

After the Senate crossbench last year rejected the government's plans, Mr Pyne has offered several changes to the bills, but still failed to convince a majority of the eight crossbenchers he needs to pass the reforms

Mr Pyne last week raised the prospect that $150 million for the ongoing costs of the $2 billion National Collaborative Research Infra-structure Strategy would be cut unless the Senate agreed to the latest package.

But research sector, uni-versity and business leaders have since hit out at the threat, indicating thousands of highly qualified scientists could leave Australia if the funding was cut.

After numerous delays, the government's package this week was scheduled for Senate debate from Tuesday, with Mr Pyne saying that "one way or the other" a final decision on deregulating the university fee system would be made.

But he said tying the research funds to the fate of the wider package was not a mistake, saying Labor had "de-funded" the program and he wanted to rectify that.

Mr Pyne said he had found the savings to continue funding the program as part of deregulation, and critics of the legislative linking of the two were not responsible for finding other savings in the budget.

He may also be pinning his hopes on talking around Palmer United Party Senator Dio Wang, who has previously indicated he may support the package, and former PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus, who previously rejected it.

Senator Lazarus yesterday resigned from the Palmer party, leaving the government to negotiate individually with all eight senators on its legislation, unless it had Labor on side.

Mr Pyne said his "message to the crossbench" yesterday was to pass the reforms and not leave the university sector to "stagnate".

He said irrespective of the final outcome next week, the government would "forge ahead".