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03 February 2015
by Hannah Paine

The new Frank Gehry UTS building is breathtaking, but it was a Christopher Pyne remark at its opening that drew audible gasps

'The most beautiful squashed brown paper bag ever seen'

The Education Minister drew audible gasps at the opening of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS when he launched a spirited defence of his government's embattled higher education reform.

"The wonderful thing about this building is that it shouts out that the University of Technology Sydney is in the race for higher education - that it is a real competitor and that it is not content to sit back and receive large government support," he said.

The speech, an official engagement at the opening of the Dr Chau Chak Wing by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, prompted murmurings among spectators when he appeared to bring the opening into his campaign to pass university funding changes.

The Education Minister has struggled to gain support for the tertiary reforms which would decrease university funding by an average of 20 per cent and allow them to set their own fees, as well as extending funding to private colleges and TAFE.

Mr Pyne was unable to have the reforms passed by the senate in December, and last week said he had set himself a two-month deadline to pass the changes.

In his speech on Monday Mr Pyne criticised what he said was an unwillingness to recognise overseas competition and the importance of international tertiary students to Australian's economy.

"That competition is something that governments and Australians can't pretend is not happening," he said.

Mr Pyne praised the $180 million spent on the Frank Gehry building as showing a focus on quality and innovation as opposed to the university using the funds to build several buildings.

"It's not enough to have 41 very good universities, we must have the best university system but also the best universities in the world," said Mr Pyne.

He said that proposed higher education reforms would mean that university vice-chancellors could charge more if they believed they were providing a better course and facilities.

"If UTS has the best entrepreneurship MBA in Australia it will be able to attach a real value to that rather than it costing the same as another MBA in Australia-regardless of whether they are the same quality in that course," Mr Pyne said.

The speech was in stark contrast to Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, who did not focus on the reform and instead praised the building design as the "most beautiful squished paper bag I have ever seen."

Atilla Brungs, a vice chancellor of UTS, said:

"Just as the Opera House put Australia on the map for the arts, the Chau Chak Wing will make confirm Australia's place as a global innovative leader."