AN ANGRY Rob Oakeshott has reminded Labor its education policy was one of the "key reasons" he backed it to form government after the 2010 election.
The key independent MP said some of the cost-saving measures in higher education contained in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook were perplexing.
Spending in a number of key training and higher education programs has been delayed, frozen or cut, saving more than $1 billion over the next four years.
Mr Oakeshott said the government had "Buckley's" of getting some of the measures requiring legislation through the Parliament, with the Greens and other crossbench MPs expressing concerns about parts of the MYEFO.
Asked if he had raised his concerns with the government, Mr Oakeshott said: "They know my views".
"This is one of the key reasons they (Labor) are the government of the day," he said.
"Their education platform was miles ahead of the Liberal National Party platform.
"I got slammed for speaking for 17 minutes - a big part of that was talking about education policy and the importance of it for regional communities like mine."
Mr Oakeshott told APN Newsdesk earlier this week he was opposed to the government pursuing a surplus solely for political reasons.
He pleaded with all sides of politics to provide a "clear vision" for higher education and to start treating it as an "investment in our future rather than a cost".
He said Labor was at risk of losing its standing as the education party.
"Politically, this is supposed to be the Labor Party's strong card, but this week they've muddied it," he said.
"They, themselves, are now challenging their own policy of demand-driven student access from low socio-economic, Aboriginal and rural areas in some of the decisions they've taken," he said.
"Opening up access has been a really good feature of the last three or four years started by Julia Gillard when she was Deputy Prime Minster and Minister for Education.
"I worry that a good policy started four years ago for the right reasons is now secondary to a political point over returning to surplus in a record time.
"And if education, as everyone seems to say, is really the ticket to the best standards of living for Australia for the next 30 or 40 years, ... if that's genuinely what we're about, then Monday does none of that."
Mr Oakeshott said the measures placed "question marks" over a number of issues relating to higher education, including the role of research in shaping Australia's future and international students and their importance to the university sector.
Finance Minister Penny Wong sought to defend the savings in higher education at Monday's press conference before she even asked a question about it.
She pointed to the government's funding record since coming to government in 2007.
"Let's recall that under this government funding for university places has grown considerably," Senator Wong said.
"We've invested to date more than $43 billion in core university funding over the period 2008 to 2011. That is a 50% increase on the four years prior to our election.
"In the years ahead, that is 2012 to 2015, we'll be investing some $58.9 billion in our universities - more than double the funding in the last four years of the Howard government."
Universities Australia was highly critical of the changes to the Sustainable Research Excellence Program in particular, which will save the government almost $500 million over the forward estimates.
Some of the savings measures in education and training contained in the MYEFO:
- Slowing funding for Sustainable Research Excellence funding (saving $499 million).
- Ceasing Facilitation Funding - aimed at helping universities achieve performance targets - from January 1, 2014, reducing payments by $270 million over three years from 2013/14.
- Changes to support for masters degrees ($167 million).
- Student start-up scholarships to be frozen rather than indexed to 2017 ($82.3 million).
- Removing commencement and completion incentives for employers of apprentices who undertake a diploma or advanced diploma, with the exception of people studying in aged care, child care and nursing (saving $83.6 million over four years).
- Changing funding for the Support for Adult Australian Apprentices program. Employers to now get $4000 lump sum payment at the end of the first year of an apprenticeship. (saving $81.2 million over four years).
- Extending the Trade Training Centres in Schools program to 2018/19, thus reducing payments over the next four years (saving $305 million over four years, although overall program funding remains the same).
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