10 reasons to join the National Day of Action rallies against fee-deregulation

February 20, 2015

The National Union of Students organises national days of action, in which students around the country take part in rallies to fight back against the latest round of attacks against public education. This year, students are continuing to fight the biggest attack on accessible education since HECS was introduced in 1989.

In December, the federal government tried to pass a Higher Education Reform Bill which included subsidy reductions to reduce government spending on tertiary education.

The second component of the legislation was system expansion. This would expand the previous Labor government’s policy of demand-driven education, which led to most of the enrolment restrictions on undergraduate courses at public universities being scrapped.

Finally, the most controversial aspect is fee deregulation, which would allow universities, TAFEs and colleges to set tuition fees for their courses without restriction.

Fortunately for students this legislation did not pass the Senate. However, an amended Higher Education Reform Bill may pass this year. Education minister Christopher Pyne issued an ultimatum to the Senate on January 28 to pass the legislation by March.

These bills have failed to pass in the context of deep community opposition to fee deregulation and large student mobilisations last year.

The National Union of Students has organised a National Day of Action on March 25 with demands including no deregulated fees, more funding for universities and a fairer student income support system. Here are 10 reasons to attend these rallies.

1. Fee hikes from the capping of degrees will mean that students pay more for their degrees. Fee deregulation will allow universities to raise tuition fees to levels that will cover the costs the government is no longer willing to pay, and allow them to turn a profit.

The National Tertiary Education Union and the Labor Party have claimed this could result in degrees that cost $100,000 or more.

2. Fee deregulation will generate vast quantities of unrepayable student debt. This results from fee hikes, an increased interest rate on that debt and the uncapping of student borrowing limits.

Universities and governments have said students will only have to repay the debt once their income meets the repayment threshold. This is estimated to be just over $50,000 in 2015-2016.

But with an unemployment rate of 6.4%, a university degree is no guarantee that a graduate can walk into a job. This means students could have a debt that they’re unable to repay due to a low income job or unemployment, while also accumulating 6% interest each year the debt is not paid off.

3. Fee deregulation will lead to the creation of a two-tiered education system. Prestigious institutions will benefit, while regional and less prestigious institutions will struggle to survive.

4. Fee deregulation includes and justifies huge public funding cuts to tertiary education.

5. Fee deregulation will increase social inequality in education, as more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds assume that further education is too expensive for them.

6. Fee deregulation is an attack on the notion of education as a tool to better society and individuals. If people of merit from lower socioeconomic groups don’t believe that university education is accessible to them it will further institutionalise inequality and prevent social mobility.

7. Fee deregulation is the start of the greater marketisation and privatisation of our education system. All Liberal (and many Labor) policies are driven by a neoliberal ideology that aims to reduce government spending and privatise public services.

A reduction in government investment in tertiary education is the precursor to attempts to sell assets in the future.

8. Fee deregulation does not solve the budget problems it claims to solve. Fee deregulation will save $640 million over four years in its current form, as opposed to $4 billion as originally proposed.

9. According to one of the nation’s top economic modellers, Ben Phillips, fee deregulation will create new problems, with the expectation that it will increase inflation and drain billions of dollars in public revenue.

10. The full consequences are unknown as these changes are internationally unprecedented.

For these reasons and more it is critical that university and TAFE students attend the March 25 rally in their city. Rallies are planned for all the capital cities, as well as some regional cities.

[Christian Goopy and Sarah Hathway are members of Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance.]

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I have been involved in university teaching for 40 years and am a long-time member of the National Tertiary Education Union . There are 4 further important reasons why Australians should fight free deregulation and increased debt for Australian tertiary students. 1. All education can and should be free (see Dr Gideon Polya, “Accredited Remote Learning”: http://accreditedremotelearning.blogspot.com.au/ ). Thus, for example, Australia doesn’t charge particular young people huge fees for the evident advantages of having prosperous parents, living in certain rich suburbs or attending taxpayer-subsidized wealthy private schools. 2. The average HECS debt is $15,200 and is repaid over 8.3 years (The Australian, 2013: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/lost-hecs-debt-62bn-and-rising/story-fn59nlz9-1226557806058 ). Despite the reality that undergraduate teaching can be provided for about 10% of the current cost using casual academics and for about 1% of the current through part-time expert accrediting assessments for top quality courses emplaced for free on the web (MOOCs) by top institutions like 152-Nobel-Laureate Harvard and 83-Nobel-Laureate MIT (see Dr Gideon Polya, “Accredited Remote Learning”: http://accreditedremotelearning.blogspot.com.au/ ), the anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti- youth and climate criminal Australian Coalition Government is hell-bent on hugely increasing the average HECS Debt to get $100,000 degrees (see Gideon Polya, “Letter To Young People Over $220 Trillion Carbon Debt: Revolt (Peacefully)”, Countercurrents, 11 July, 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya110714.htm ). 3. Any nation needs a complement of research active scholars and scientists for cultural, economic and security reasons – but impoverished university students should no more have to pay for it than they should have to pay for defence or Medicare. 4. Young Australians face a huge and escalating Carbon Debt that is increasing at nearly A$40,000 per head per year for under-30 year old Australians. The climate criminal Coalition’s Direct Action Policy involves setting a Carbon Price of $$0 /t CO2-e rather than the damage-related US$150/t CO2-e demanded by top climate economist Dr Chris Hope of 90-Nobel-Laureate Cambridge University and is intergenrational theft by generating an enormous Carbon Debt to be inescapably paid by future generations (see (see Dr Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9.2011: http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/workingpapers/wp1109.pdf ). For Australians this unpaid Carbon Debt of US$150/t CO2-e translates to a total 1751-2015 Australian Carbon Debt of A$7.2 trillion that is increasing at A$385 billion per year. Thus Australia (population 24 million) with 0.34% of the world’s population has 2.1% of the world’s Carbon Debt. The Australian Carbon Debt will inescapably have to be paid by the young and future generations and for under-30 year old Australians is increasing at about A$38,500 per person per year, noting that the annual Australian per capita income is about A$83,000 (for details and documentation see Gideon Polya, “2015 A-to-Z alphabetical list of actions and advocacies for climate change activists”, Countercurrents, 14 January, 2015: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya140115.htm ).

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