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.]