Federal Government changes University funding – I fear for the worse!

university protest

It was with some trepidation that I write in this weeks school newsletter on the recent proposed changes to university funding arrangements.

The links between primary schools and universities is not obvious in many cases. Quite a few of our parents at EPS either work in or attend courses at various universities and a few of the older parents, like me, have children at universities as well. We, as an institute, have close relationships with two universities here in Melbourne and one overseas at which various teachers are either attending or thinking about attending to either update their qualifications or participate in professional learning institutes. As the principal in the organisation with close links to universities I think it appropriate to at least raise the issue with the community.

Recent demonstrations at universities across Australia highlight the discontent of some about the recent proposed changes to university funding arrangements. The Hon Christopher Pyne recently wrote in the Age newspaper:

“Traditional university students, meanwhile, remain protected. The government will continue to support all 750,000 or so full-time and part-time Australian students studying for a regular bachelor degree by offering what we believe is the world’s most generous loans scheme. Not a cent of university study needs to be paid for by Australian students upfront. Students borrow their share of the cost of their education through the Higher Education Loan Program (otherwise known as HECS). They don’t start repaying until they earn over $50,000 a year. It’s the best loan deal a student will ever get, especially given the interest rate is protected – it just matches the government’s cost of borrowing. There’s an ever bigger win for university students. Freeing universities to set their own fees, rather than having them dictated by government, will encourage competition between higher education institutions – and that means better courses, better teaching and more competitive course pricing. It will result in a greater focus on students than ever before in Australia.”

A few newspaper commentators like Peter Martin the economics editor in the Age newspaper corrected some statements saying

On higher education the minister Christopher Pyne said the changes would give Australian students the “best deal in the OECD”. That’s wrong. University education is free in Germany and cheap elsewhere in Europe.

More disturbing was the Prime Minister’s advice to intending students when asked how school leavers about to enrol could possibly make a sensible choice without knowing what they would eventually be charged, he told them to relax. “If you start a course under one system, you will finish it under that system,”. Reassuring, but wrong. The higher fees will begin in 2016. They will apply to everyone who enrols from now on. The school leavers who enrol this year will indeed have no idea of what they will eventually be charged.

The National Tertiary Education Union says an accountancy degree now costs $30,255 and takes 10 years to repay. From 2016 it is likely to cost $75,000 plus $24,000 of interest which will take 23 years to repay, bringing the total to $99,000.

From the Sydney Morning Herald; No one knows how high fees will rise, or how big student debts will become. Prime Minister Tony Abbott refuses to rule out some course fees doubling. Bruce Chapman, the architect of the HECS repayment scheme, warns of prices tripling, with the cost of prestige degrees rising above $120,000.

Some University vice chancellors, like Jane Den Hollander from Deakin, are now defending the existing HECS systems saying “that higher interest charges on HELP loans and fee hikes will especially hurt lower income graduates such as nurses and teachers, as well as women who take time out of work to have children but will still face compounding debts while they aren’t earning.”

In raising the issue I do question the link between competition and better teaching standards however my intent is simply to provoke a conversation for many of our young people I speak to aspire to continue their education at university. The question might be who is able to afford such a debt whilst saving for some of life’s other needs like a roof over one’s head.