Govt misses opportunity to deliver urgently needed uni reforms


Australian Greens Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi has responded to the Government's decision to progress five immediate action items following the release of the Universities Accord interim report, saying it represents a missed opportunity.

The Greens previously outlined their priorities for action:

  1. Wipe student debt, or at the very least make the student debt system fairer by abolishing indexation on all student debt and raising the minimum repayment income to the median wage.
  2. Raise the stipends for PhD students to at least the minimum wage. 
  3. Extend paid parental leave to PhD students.
  4. Lower the age of independence from 22 to 18, and raise student social security payments above the poverty line to at least $88 per day.
  5. Pay students when undertaking mandatory unpaid placements. 
  6. Reverse the fee hikes and funding cuts introduced as part of the Job-Ready Graduates Scheme.
  7. Wipe Student Financial Supplement Scheme debts. 
  8. Ensure that international students have access to safe and affordable housing. 
  9. Boost government funding to universities and link it to ensuring increases in secure, permanent  and ongoing employment for staff
  10. Cap vice-chancellor salaries.
  11. Require universities to report casual employment data, including the number of casual employees and the cost of executive salaries.

Senator Faruqi said:

“The Minister’s  decision to guarantee First Nations students a Commonwealth-supported university place is an important and positive step. The other announcements are well and good  but nowhere near what is needed.

“Soaring student debt has made university increasingly out of reach for young people, who don’t deserve to be saddled with a debt sentence simply for pursuing education. 

“If the Government really wants to improve access to university, they should make university free and wipe all student debt.

“The Government is burying its head in the sand when it comes to so many obvious, urgent things that need addressing, like student debt, unpaid placements, PhD students living under the poverty line and the corporatisation of unis leading to rampant casualisation and wage theft. 

“Labor is woefully out of touch when it comes to young people. We see it in their failure to act on the housing crisis and we are seeing it in their failure to address student poverty.

"It's great that Labor will dump the cruel and punitive 50 per cent fail rule, which was introduced as part of the disastrous Job-Ready graduates scheme. However, they should also scrap the scheme’s fee hikes and funding cuts, which have been an unmitigated disaster.

“I’ve been calling for changes to university governance and greater democracy on campus for some time, so it's good to see that the panel has considered this a priority. The corporate university model has been so damaging and corrosive.

Greens analysis has found that over the last two decades, there has been a 43 per cent reduction in the number of elected positions on university councils. We have to give power back to staff and students.

“Moving deck chairs on the Titanic is not going to cut it. Big and bold ideas must be urgently implemented.

“It's time to reimagine universities as essential, democratic places which exist to serve the public good. Free and well-funded university is necessary for equity and the functioning of a vibrant  democracy."