More students won't harm uni quality: Bowen

Australia's new tertiary education minister says it's insulting to disadvantaged people to suggest increasing access to university will harm quality.

During an interview on the sidelines of a higher education conference in Canberra, Chris Bowen pledged to be a strong advocate for greater access to university study.

He also poured cold water on long-running calls to boost tertiary funding and declared that looming measures to deal with an expected influx of international students would not be "revolutionary".

Mr Bowen was moved out of the immigration portfolio and appointed as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science, Research and Small Business after Labor's long-serving Senate leader, Chris Evans, resigned early this month.

Mr Bowen said he was interested in "the intersection of quality and access".

"It's not a false dichotomy," he said.

"It's quite an insult to people of disadvantaged backgrounds to say they necessarily by definition reduce the quality of universities and that'll be my approach."

Universities Australia, the peak body that is running this week's conference, has long called for an increase in average base funding to universities and reaffirmed the demand on Wednesday.

A review commissioned by the government supported a boost, saying it would "improve the quality of higher education teaching and contribute to national productivity and economic growth".

But in the days before resigning, Senator Evans formally dismissed the recommendation, saying "there will be no additional generalised funding increase".

Mr Bowen indicated on Wednesday there was no prospect of revisiting the decision given the strained federal budget.

"We've dealt with that issue. We've made our decision," he said.

"I understand some people would like more. We've massively increased university funding.

"Some people would like a 10 per cent increase on top of the 10 per cent increase we've already delivered. I understand that. That's a very legitimate point of view for them to take.

"We have budgetary considerations to apply so that decision's been made."

On the opening day of the higher education conference, Mr Bowen released a report predicting the number of international students in Australia would rise by 30 per cent by 2020.

Although the report by the International Education Advisory Council acknowledges a decline in student numbers in recent years, it notes an increase in visa grants and predicts solid growth in coming years.

The report spells out 35 recommendations, including better marketing campaigns, measures to make students feel more welcome and a ministerial co-ordinating body.

Mr Bowen said the report's prediction of an influx of international students would bring "infrastructure challenges", but there was time to prepare.

He said it was "not an earth-breaking, revolutionary report" but rather a "temperature check" for the international education sector.

"There's been a lot happening. The introduction of streamlined visas, the introduction of post-study work rights, regulatory changes, all those things," he said.

"It is not a report that is going to turn international education on its head. I think that's not what the sector needs. It's a report which outlines things are going relatively well but there are things we could do better, particularly in relation to co-ordination and monitoring the impacts of regulation."

Mr Bowen said the government had "no plans" to make further changes to visas for international students, beyond the ones already being implemented.

The Coalition's spokesman for universities and research, Brett Mason, said the report showed how to recover lost ground in international education which had declined by $2.5 billion in value under Labor.

"The government took it for granted that the industry would continue to grow and seemed unconcerned when it went backwards," Senator Mason said.

"Indeed, the government's own student visa policies played an active role in slowing down the sector".

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will address the higher education conference on Thursday to spell out his approach to the tertiary sector. Mr Bowen challenged him to reveal specific plans.

This story More students won't harm uni quality: Bowen first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.