Words and image by Lia Lawrie
An investigation into higher education funding and reforms
I’m Lia, and I am the elected 2014/15 President of the University of South Australia Student Association (USASA) —your association. When I was a candidate at this year’s election, I ran on a platform that prioritised being a voice against the proposed education reforms—to be a voice for equitable education.
Now, let it be clear, I’m not exactly doing a spiel on education policy for ‘funzies’. Nor are the Federal Education Minister and the Federal Government exactly asking students for their left kidney. But, this is an issue university students need to know about. Once again, this is an issue you need to know about.
UniSA is the South Australian university that is all about giving people a fair go. And fun fact: that is why approximately 40 per cent of students at UniSA are those with a background of lower social economic standing. This university provides an opportunity for people to gain the skills and knowledge to change their life and to better themselves—an opportunity that will not be as accessible should the current tertiary education policy be reformed.
The three most damaging facets that are being put forward as part of the Government’s reform are:
1) Cuts to university funding
2) Deregulation of student fees
3) Applying interest to HECS debts
Cuts to university funding are bad because, as everyone knows, education is a wise investment for a country. So when the government says that they want to cut university funding, it’s because they no longer want to invest as strongly in their own people. They would rather promote an individual’s responsibility as opposed to providing structures that support individuals. This shifting responsibility in numbers looks like a reduced contribution of Commonwealth Supported Places by an average of 20 per cent, or $2 120 every year. This means university students, you, are footing that bill. And this is just the average. Cuts can vary depending on the area of study.
• For engineering students, a cut of $4 717 p/a (28%).
• For social studies students, a cut of $3 566 p/a (37%).
• For medicine and agriculture students, a cut of $3 206 p/a (15%).
‘But what about HECS? That’s still there. People can still defer their repayments and pay them back when they get a job.’
HECS will still be there. Students will still be able to defer their fees, and the reduced contribution means they’ll just have to pay a few thousand more. But wait, we still have to talk about deregulation. Currently, the university fee structure is regulated.
This means that I can study social work at UniSA, the University of Queensland or the University of Sydney and will always pay the same price for that course, regardless of the university’s prestige.
Deregulation means a university can charge whatever it wants. So a social work degree can cost $25,000 at UniSA, $50,000 at the University of Queensland or $65,000 at the University of Sydney. This is a shame because people should always be given the opportunity to study at a public Australian university based on their own merit, and not by how much they can afford. With this reform, which stimulates competition between universities, fees will increase exponentially and students will be the ones to suffer.
• A medical degree which currently costs about $60,000 will cost up to $200,000.
• Law degrees will increase from $50,000 to as much as $125,000.
• Engineering from $34 000 to as much as $115 000.
• Accounting from $30 000 to as much as $90 000. ‘But we can still pay it off after we graduate.’
Sure, you can still pay off your accumulated HECS debt, but in addition to the indexation on your already accumulated fee, you will still have to pay more in tax, an interest capped at 6 per cent. These changes, if passed through the senate, will come into effect from June 2016. Yeeeeeah, university just got more expensive. And the fun part is that the current Federal Education Minister went to university for free.
These changes are cruel, and if the senate accepts this reform package, you’ll see the Australian education system shift into one of the US. But students and other members of the community agree that this isn’t the higher education system for this country. Some of the student rallies you’ve seen throughout the year have been a national effort instigated by the National Union of Students to have the student voice heard. To date, the National Union of Students have organised three national days of action against the proposed reform. On any National Day of Action, thousands of students across the country will march, protest and chant ‘NO CUTS, NO FEES, NO CORPORATE UNIVERSITIES!’ because they are protesting for equity. They are protesting for accessible education so that people can have the opportunity to change their lives.
How can you help?
Lobby the key independents in the senate. Write, call, tweet, etc. and tell the Palmer United Party or Senator Nick Xenophon that you are against education reform.
Be a part of community events. There is a National Day of Action that everyone is invited to attend on October 16th.
My spiel is done, and I hope you can take something from it.