Students and the budget
By Rebecca Meckelberg
While tertiary students knew that the 1993 federal budget would offer few gifts, many have been shocked that a Labor government could introduce measures that mean the end of any notion of free education. This budget represents some of the biggest attacks on our right to free and accessible education since the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS).
Second undergraduate degrees now require payment of a second HECS. Students straying one semester over the minimum time it requires to finish a degree will be forced to pay 50% more HECS. The income threshold at which HECS must be repaid has dropped to $26,403. The rate at which HECS will be repaid has been increased from 2, 3 and 4% to 3, 4 and 5%. Universities will now be able to charge full fees for post graduate students over and above the government funded post graduate places.
The maximum Austudy supplement has been increased to $6,000. The government recognises that students cannot live on Austudy so students can borrow money in order to survive. But for each dollar borrowed over and above the Austudy grant, a dollar of the grant is sacrificed. Austudy for 16 and 17 year-olds has been scrapped. Students will only receive Austudy from the date their course commences, not from the beginning of the year.
The direction in higher education is towards full, up-front fees for all students, with courses tailored to the needs of business and industry. The rich are able to afford the best courses while the rest of get what we can afford. The main beneficiaries of our changing higher education sector is big business, but they are not being made to pay for it.
"Business did rather well [from the budget] over all", observed the West Australian on August 18. "In pure cash terms, Mr Dawkins has added more costs to business ... however with the corporate tax rate reduction from 39 to 33 per cent, effective from July 1, there can be few overall complaints. Compared with the way families have been asked to help Australia out of its economic difficulties, business has done alright. That is how it should be, given that it is successful private sector which will create wealth and long term sustainable employment."
But the real balance sheet of a decade of handouts to business has been the highest levels of unemployment since the great depression and productive investment at an all time low. Enormous shares of Australia's wealth have shifted from the hands of working people into the hands of the rich.