Deregulation in disguise

Unfortunately, the 2017 budget shows the Liberal government's unwavering commitment to making life harder for young people, and making higher education accessible only to the wealthy.

By Robyn Lewis, Co-Convenor, Australian Young Greens
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

University students have fought the Abbott-Turnbull government since 2014, to prevent their constant attacks on higher education. 

As we head into second semester, let's have a look at what the 2017 budget means for university students. Simply that they will be paying more for less. The government is cutting 2.5 per cent out of universities' budgets, which will almost certainly mean cuts to courses, likely from the humanities, the latest round of cuts that most universities have already been making. This cut also means cost-cutting, and I doubt it will come from bloated administrations, or the obscene salaries of vice chancellors. More likely, we will see less staff, more casualisation, and fewer hours. For students, this means having teachers that are overworked, and not paid for enough hours to be able to properly prepare for the course, or properly mark assignments.

Rot by any other name

The government is also increasing course fees, by up to 7.5 per cent. High-fee degrees like medicine could now cost $75,000. This is a stepping stone to deregulation and will increase the amount students are paying by thousands of dollars, for a degree with fewer options and worse teaching quality. A Guardian poll in May showed that around half of Australians oppose any tuition fees whatsoever, in line with Greens policy. Australia could, and should be moving back to a single-payer fully funded free education system, but instead we’re stuck fighting to maintain the status quo. It seems bizarre that Australia is regressing when higher education in other countries is moving increasingly towards lower, and indeed no fees.

Deregulation is not dead — we’re just being sold it in palatable bite-sized chunks.

Next year, perhaps fees will increase again, and again, until we’re right back to the proposal that Australian students wholeheartedly rejected in 2014 and have fought against ever since.

And what will students do, after they have paid more for a degree with lower quality? Well, they’ll have to start paying back their HECS a lot sooner. The budget will see graduates paying back debt once they earn $42,000, only $8,000 above the minimum wage. That is not a lot when you consider the cost of living, let alone the additional costs for graduates who have children or other family members to support, or perhaps even a medical condition requiring ongoing care.

These changes are terrible for students and terrible for graduates and academics. There has been a lot of discussion about these changes within the Australian Young Greens lately. The conclusion that I have come to is that I am so proud to be in a party that stands up for young people, for people who cannot afford to pay $75,000 for a degree, and against deregulation, whether outright or in slow-motion. 

Robyn Lewis is one of the Co-Convenors of the Australian Young Greens. Image is of education protests in Melbourne in March 2017. Image cc by Corey Oakley.