University students face a massive overhaul to their higher education system – far more drastic than the $2.3 billion worth of budget cuts announced last year. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has announced his intention to restructure Australian universities in line with the two-tier university system in the US; with the cream of Australian universities at the top and a lower rung of community colleges and underfunded universities for the rest of us.
In Pyne’s speech on Monday, preceding a more detailed announcement later in the week, he indicated he wanted to “set universities free” by deregulating university fees and allowing universities to charge what they want. The Group of 8 universities, the top universities in Australia, have been pushing for their specialised courses, some postgraduate courses and courses for some occupations that don’t face “shortages” to be exempt from government funding and instead only accessible to full-fee paying students.
Other measures expected to be adopted include a 10% loan fee on top of HECs and non-university higher education providers such as TAFEs and private colleges to receive commonwealth subsides to provide university-level education. Many of those private colleges have been found to have provided questionable qualifications to international students for exorbitant prices, and will drive down the quality of education for those who can’t afford to access the sandstone universities.
If you look at the situation in the United States, most students cannot go to the Harvards or Yales, less than half get into the
institution of their choosing and take out private loans to study, with far less protections on when they have to pay back their debt. The Liberals have indicated a desire to do something similar by selling off HECS debt to private financial companies in a move towards privatising student debt.
What is expected? A continuation of the deteriorating quality of education while there will be nothing stopping universities from charging more. One friend of mine started studying at La Trobe Universities, which faced severe cuts already, and many of their lectures are provided through video-link from another lecture theatre because they will not provide a lecturer for each classroom, and often they have reported not being able to get a seat in tutorials.
In response, the National Union of Students have called an Emergency Protest for May 21 across the country and students from Melbourne universities will rally at the State Library on that day at 2pm. It is vital that students respond with the seriousness this announcement deserves as the Liberals prepare to announce a budget that is full of attacks on not just students, but pensioners, the health system and social spending outright.
By Benjamin Solah