A SENATE committee has rejected concerns that it will be "extremely hard" for universities to pay for new buildings or deal with a backlog of maintenance in regional areas.
It has instead thrown its support behind closing an education investment fund and using the money to pay for catastrophic natural disasters and their aftermaths through bills set to be debated by the senate later today.
Three of La Trobe's Bendigo-based rural health school buildings were built in 2009 with money from the fund, the university said during an inquiry into the proposal.
"Universities currently have no ongoing source of capital funding to renew their facilities. They must turn to their own margins to fund new infrastructure," it read.
The buildings helped drive enrollments by 2547 in Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton and Mildura and helped lay the groundwork for a host of research projects, the submission stated.
The concerns echoed those of Innovative Research Universities, which said the loss of funds would "hinder university capacity to deliver across regional, rural and remote Australia".
Yet the committee noted that the fund has lain dormant for six years and that governments have used their annual budgets, including $17.7 billion for the sector in 2019, with another $1.9 million over 10 years as part of a research infrastructure investment plan.
"The committee notes the government's ongoing commitment to higher education, and does not agree that the EIF is integral to creating a world-class education system in Australia," committee chair and Liberal Party senator James Paterson said.
"Indeed, it is evident that the government can continue to build a world-class education system in Australia without drawing on the EIF."
Labor senators on the committee have reservations about the way the bill would fund action on natural disasters, though it supports increased funding for disaster recovery and mitigation.
The party will keep examining the legislation and "talk to stakeholders" to see if there is a better way forward, deputy chair and Labor senator Jenny McAllister said.
The senate is expected to debate two bills related to emergency responses later today.
The Greens plan to ask for an amendment stating that the senate oppose "abolishing" the EIF and only support spending money from it on higher education.
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