Budget 2014: Radical changes to education funding

A strike on Sydney University in March last year.

Radical changes to university and TAFE education were announced in the federal budget on May 13.

These changes include removing the cap on university fees and changes to welfare payments. People under 25 are no longer eligible for the Newstart allowance.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said the theme of the budget was "contribution and building" and "sharing the pain", but it will make it even tougher for struggling families.

Liah Lazarou, a sole parent studying in Adelaide, said: "It's devastating for the working class, who will be pushed out of the education system because, coupled with inadequate welfare and increasing youth unemployment, higher education will simply not be viable.

"We need to build a movement to oppose the cuts and create a real fightback against the neoliberal agenda of austerity, where the age of entitlement is alive and kicking for the ruling class.”

Gabriel Franks, a nursing student at the University of Adelaide, said the decision to lift the eligibility age for Newstart from 22 to 25 will mean many students have to study on the lower youth allowance payment.

"I knew it was unlikely there'd be a job waiting for me at the end of my nursing degree,” she said. “But I never thought that in case I was unemployed I'd be kept on youth allowance and forced to work for no wages, while being a Registered Nurse. That scares me a lot."

Read all of Green Left's budget coverage

The Coalition's "budget fix" sees more financial assistance for non-university tertiary study and apprenticeships.

Hockey said: "We will give people loans to complete a university course, so it is only right that those completing a trade qualification get the same fair go.” This is good news for TAFE students and those studying at “approved higher education institutions” such as private colleges.

Geelong TAFE student Sarah Hathway feels that she was lucky compared with others under attack from the Coalition budget.

"We got off lightly in the federal budget as TAFEs are impacted by state government policy. However a lot of TAFE students are doing their current course as an alternate pathway to university and they fear they won't be able to afford university now.

“Victorian TAFEs had budget cuts rather badly two years ago, so fees and amenities costs have already increased while support services have decreased. Traditionally, TAFE was the more affordable and more accessible option, but with the state government attacks and now the federal changes to welfare, young people can't afford to learn and therefore don't have the qualifications to earn."

It is not so great for those hoping to study at university. The increased student contributions, and charging interest on student loans (rather than indexing to inflation), are likely to deter students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from choosing to study at university institutions.
Those already studying will see no changes until 2020. The government says it will save $3 billion by allowing universities to set their fees for students. This will be coupled with lowering the income at which students will have to start paying back their HECS debt, from $51,309 to $50,638.

This is being termed "earn or learn" to move away from "an age of entitlement". Budget papers estimate the average student debt will increase from $16,800 this year to $21,500 in 2017.

This is just another example of rights and welfare being portrayed as entitlement, while public services and education are privatised but bigotry is legalised and deemed a right.