CANBERRA, Dec 5 - With the latest version of a university funding overhaul - slated to save the government nearly $3 billion - again stalled in the Senate, Education Minister Simon Birmingham is reportedly considering finding ways to cut budgets without needing parliamentary approval.
At risk could be a program to help poorer students head to university, money for the indirect costs of research and funding for PhD and Masters students, saving the federal budget $2.1 billion, Fairfax reported on Monday.
But Universities Australia research shows three in five Australians don't support these kind of cuts.
Polling from JWS Research for the sector's peak body, released on Tuesday, shows just one in five people would support the cuts and another one in five are undecided.
It also found nearly two-thirds of people thought cutting funding to universities would limit access to tertiary education for all Australians.
"The government keeps coming up with creative new ways to cut funding to public universities, but the message from voters remains the same: it's the wrong decision for Australia's future," Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.
"The Senate has been crystal clear on this too, and would quite rightly take a dim view of any bid to go around the legislative protections for higher education funding."
Birmingham argues funding to universities has grown rapidly over the past decade and taxpayers need to be confident institutions are spending it effectively.
Last week he highlighted new figures showing completion rates were the lowest on record and the time it takes graduates to find work has lengthened in recent years.
If the government does decide to cut the participation and research program funding, due to be extended on January 1, it would likely reveal this in its mid-year budget update in the next fortnight.