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‘Callous and cruel’ Australian university fee hike debated in parliament

The Australian government higher education package offers a decrease of fees in STEM courses, while a jump in arts courses. Source: Getty Images / E+/Juanmonino

The federal government’s bill to overhaul the fee structure of higher education is currently being debated in Parliament, which sees a fee rise in arts degrees while a reduction for STEM courses.

The government's controversial plans to change how it subsidises funding for university courses has been debated in parliament this week.  It was passed in the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate for debate.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told SBS Urdu that the "Job-ready Graduates" package will grow the number of university places for domestic students by 39,000 in 2023 and 100,000 in ten years.

“The package will encourage students to study units like mathematics, English and IT, to improve their chances of getting a job in areas of expected job demand.

"That means more Australian students will get a university degree."

What the package offers:

  • Increase in university places by 39,000 over the next three years, rising to 100,000 more by 2030.
  • A three-year humanities degree would more than double in cost, from about $20,000 now to $43,500
  • Agriculture and maths fees would drop from nearly $28,600 over three years to $11,100.
  • Fees reduction for teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, science, health, architecture, IT, engineering and English courses. 

According to the government, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2019 will pave the way for more job-ready graduates and will overhaul the fee structure for Higher Education students.

'Callous and cruel'

However, the government's proposal has been criticized by the Greens as "callous and cruel".

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi says the government representatives that studied for free at university are now aiming to change the fee structure.

“For them to now condemn the students to decades of debt is nothing less than hypocrisy," she told SBS Urdu.

“Everyone in Australia should have the right to higher education.”

It is a right; it is not a privilege. It is not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

Whilst announcing the package two months earlier, Education Minister Dan Tehan said it aims to “incentivize students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand.” 

National Union of Students President Molly Willmott says the package is a “budget neutral plan”, which means no money is being put in the universities.

“There is no part of this bill that doesn’t hurt the students; this bill should be voted down.”

“In the next few years, we are about to see a fee hike, where the arts, humanities and law students will be paying more fees and will be put on to a lifetime of debt. Also, coupled with funding cuts that will hurt the ability of the universities to teach the classes properly or provide quality education.

But there are other concerns with the package announced by the government.
Students who fail in their first-year subjects could also lose their higher educations loans under this bill.

“It hurts the students with disabilities, migrants or indigenous groups, the students who have difficulty in accessing the finance," Molly said.

"There are many parts of this package that are “detrimental” to the students and will hit the next generations of students."

“This bill also punishes struggling students by kicking them off government support,” Senator Faruqi added.

“What it is going to do is, it is going to condemn the students to decades of debt and billions of dollars in debt.

This bill will have a devastating and destructive impact on higher education for generations to come.

"We know that the women will bear the brunt of this debt because about two-thirds of the students who do the humanities and social science courses are women.”

University Graduation
University students in Australia who fail classes could soon lose their HECS loans
Pixabay StockSnap

Mahreen Faruqi said the package will cut learning and teaching funding for universities by up to $900 million.

"That is going to reduce the quality of teaching for the students. This bill also punishes struggling students by kicking them off government support. At the end of the day, this bill is not going to do what the government says it is going to do, which is to have more students enrolled in the courses that they favour.

"This bill is pretty useless, it is senseless, it is callous, and it is cruel."

Australian Student bodies say the new bill will change the way students plan for a degree in the future.

On the possibility of the bill going to a parliament inquiry, the NUS president says the bill is “irredeemable.”

Molly Willmott says that Australia is in a pandemic right now and the government should focus on providing funding to the universities.

“Given that education is one of our biggest exports of the country, we need to be putting more money into education. Therefore, we must stop the leaking of staff, leaking of courses, and letting money going down the drain.”

However, the Education Minister says that they are encouraging students to tailor their studies to learn the skills that will be in demand in areas of future job growth.
"That means breaking down the traditional degree ‘silos’ by choosing units of study across disciplines and introducing a price signal to students by making degrees cheaper in areas of expected job growth.”



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