Student councillors condemn higher education cuts

Mia Sanders speaking at a rally against the education cuts in Sydney on October 16. Photo: Peter Boyle.

The University of Western Sydney Resistance club released this statement on October 28.

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Student campus councillor at UWS Bankstown Mia Sanders has slammed the federal government’s higher education reform bill which went before the Senate on October 28.

Education minister Christopher Pyne is trying to deregulate fees for domestic Commonwealth-supported students by removing government support for current programs. This will allow universities to charge student fees at whatever level they deem appropriate to make up the short fall.

Under the proposed rules, new scholarships will rely on universities increasing their fees by at least 20%. For many students this will put higher education out of reach.

Sanders said: “While Pyne has labelled the changes ‘the biggest reform in higher education in over 40 years’, most students and workers see it as the biggest attack on our already declining quality of life.

“The Coalition aims to cut around $2.8 billion from Australia’s universities — a 20% across-the-board cut.

“[Prime minister Tony] Abbott and Pyne are continuing on from where the federal ALP government left off. Labor wanted to cut $2.3 billion from the tertiary sector to help fund its Gonski school reforms.

“The Coalition’s savage cuts go further — including increasing interest on students’ debts and making individuals pay more for their education and research.

“University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence claims that fee deregulation will allow universities to hand out more scholarships.

“But the only way universities can hand out scholarships, while Abbott steals millions from the education budget, is to charge students higher fees. The ‘scholarships’ Pyne is trying to sell the public are effectively loans — and they will increase the debt for those least able to afford it”, Sanders explained.

Another campus councillor at UWS Bankstown Ian Escandor, who is studying social work, said: “The Abbott government is happy to shift the cost of education onto the individual student and their families, and away from government and society.
“This is a direct attack on ordinary people’s right to access education. It will also force universities to behave like corporations — charging ‘customers’ to ‘buy’ the education ‘commodity’.

“In short, the Abbott government wants to deregulate the education sector in much the same way as the education-for-the-rich American model.”

At least 79% of students disagree with fee deregulation — and for good reason.

Data by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) shows that “the impact [of the education ‘reforms’] will be felt most strongly for low-pay occupations such as nursing or education, and across the board the impacts are larger for females”.

Part of the education attacks propose cutting the subsidies for Commonwealth-supported students by an average of 20%. This too will lead to fee increases for students. The Commonwealth also directly subsidises some courses in some degrees — such as humanities — which means that when the subsidies are cut, the course fees will increase.

Other courses, such as law, would have a small fee increase, while fees for science and engineering courses would have a large rise.

NATSEM has also found female students will suffer disproportionately. It said female science graduates would be expected to continue paying off their student debt for 16.4 years, up from 8.4 years now, and that repayments would nearly triple.
Sanders said: “Abbott and Pyne’s push to massively increase student debt has already had an impact on poorer students or would-be students. Students finishing high school this year are disheartened to even pursue tertiary education, deterred by the proposed increase in fees and debt.”

About three-quarters of the students attending UWS are from western Sydney. Former UWS vice-chancellor Janice Read said about 24% of these students are from low socio-economic backgrounds and more than half are the first in their family to go to university.

Escandor said: “Former PM Gough Whitlam’s passing last week prompted a nationwide discussion about the enormous social value of opening education up to all.

“Germany, today, is making education free at the tertiary level. Australia, a rich country, could easily afford to do the same.”

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