Higher education is vital for Australia’s future as an innovative nation, and ensuring that we have a world-class, accessible and equitable higher education system should be a key priority for all governments.
This is why GSA has significant concerns with the higher education policy announcements made by Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Monday night.
While not as destructive as the policy proposed by the Abbott government in 2014, it still contains many measures that would have serious negative consequences for current and future students, and Australia’s higher education system as a whole.
The $2.8 billion funding cut over two years will further squeeze teaching at universities and impact on the quality of education that students receive. This is especially true given that the government has not increased funding for university research, so students will continue to cross-subsidise research with their fees.
The combination of increasing student fees and lowering the HECS repayment threshold down to just $42,000 means students will be paying more for their courses and getting hit harder with repayments.
The lower thresholds for increasing repayment percentages, and changing indexation of thresholds to CPI instead of average weekly earnings, means that the burden of HECS will get heavier every year for university graduates, especially for graduate students who are repaying two degrees.
Furthermore, this change to CPI from average weekly earnings strikes to the heart of the HECS system, where the balance between public support and private benefit was explicitly based on future earning capacity and an individual’s real capacity to repay part of the cost of their tertiary education.
The plan to radically change postgraduate Commonwealth Supported Places from the current institution-based allocation to a voucher system would particularly affect graduate coursework students at the University of Melbourne. We are concerned about what this may mean for our future students, but as yet there are no details on the plan.
Finally, the government’s plan to tie 7.5% of Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to student outcomes has the potential to benefit students, but unless this is managed very carefully it risks damaging newer and regional universities with higher percentages of disadvantaged and non-traditional students.
As Australia moves further into the twenty-first century, we will need more and more university graduates to drive the economic and social changes that will ensure our prosperity. This means we need to invest in our higher education system, not continue cutting away funding and shifting the burden onto students.
On behalf of the University of Melbourne’s 34,000 graduate students, GSA calls on the federal government to drop these damaging plans, and develop policies that will genuinely support and develop Australian higher education.