Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020, Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you now well know, Labor will not oppose these bills. As you've heard a number of times, in November last year the shadow minister for education and training wrote to the minister asking him to consider exactly these changes. We've voiced our concerns that exclusion of domestic up-front fee-paying students from the tuition protection scheme would create a complex situation where different students had different rights and protections. It may have taken 10 months, but at last we're there. And we're pleased that the government has come around to legislation to tie up these loose ends.
We welcome the practical effect of the legislation that creates simpler arrangements for students and creates processes for decision-making, student placement and loan re-crediting. More broadly, while we welcome the tuition protection scheme, we do consider this in the light of the government's recent attacks on the Australian higher education system.
I now want to refer again to the amendment moved by the member for Sydney, reminding us what we want to do as a result of this amendment. She said:
… whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that Australia's higher education system is failing our kids, workers and businesses, due to Coalition Government policies that:
(1) slash billions from university funding;
(2) are bad for our economy and labour market; and
(3) impose massive debts on people seeking a higher education".
Last week we had the hideous sight of the government gagging a debate that was around universities and the passage through this chamber. It had the result of imposing huge increased costs on students attending universities, who will now pay more for their degrees. Thousands, literally thousands, will pay more than double. These bills, which were passed last week, will cut billions from the sector while doing absolutely nothing to help young people get into high-priority courses and jobs. As we've heard, every member of the cabinet opposite and most members of this parliament have had the privilege—the absolute privilege—of having a higher education. Not all have. I'm not sure how many haven't, but I dare to say most have—by far the majority have.
I recall when I was at university, I was lucky enough to be at university at a time when tertiary education became free. That was the second year after I started university. I was a beneficiary of the Whitlam innovations, which opened up access to university for so many Australians who would otherwise have not achieved a university outcome.
I contrast that with what we're seeing here. I was brought up here in Narrabundah, just down the road. It was a very working class suburb. I think it's right to say that I was probably the only kid in the street to attend university. There were a couple of blokes over in the back street, and we used to come together to go to university—but there were very few.
Sadly, what we're going to see as a result of this legislation is the aspirations for so many young Australians trampled by this legislation. Others, in this debate, have detailed the abhorrent situation which now exists. They've detailed the costs which have been imposed upon students. It's $14½ thousand for an arts degree per year. I might ask: what does that mean?—through you, Deputy Speaker Wallace, to someone who might be able to explain it to me. Say I intend to attend the University of Melbourne, for example, where the model of that university requires university entrants to do a general degree before a professional degree, such as an arts degree or general science degree. These aspirants to a career, if they are doing their first year of an arts degree next year, will now be required to pay 113 per cent more than if they were attending that university this year. They'll be required to front up with $14½ thousand, and, if they don't have a state sponsored place, that money has got to come from somewhere. Then, on the assumption that they do well and they want to go on to do medicine, they'll pay less for their medical degree per year than they paid for their arts degree when they first enrolled in university. More than 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased, and 67 per cent of that 40 per cent will be required to pay $14½ thousand a year.
Let me ask you something, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks. If you come from a rural community such as from my electorate of Lingiari—but I could be talking about the whole of the Northern Territory, except Darwin—how will these cuts impact you? I'll just make this observation for a start. At the moment in the Northern Territory the proportion of people aged 25 to 35 with a bachelor's degree or higher is only 15.4 per cent of people who live in regional parts of the Northern Territory and 27.3 per cent in the Darwin area, compared to an Australian total of 35 per cent. So, if you live in a regional area of the Northern Territory, a small town, you are less than half as likely as the average Australian to get a university degree.
Now, how does that gel with these funding proposals? Let's say you've got to travel from Tennant Creek to Adelaide, Melbourne or Darwin to attend university and you don't have rich parents and you don't have a scholarship. If you do a general arts degree and you successfully do it in four years—because it's an honours degree—you will need to have in your back pocket, or you will need a way of getting, $58,000. Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, that's not a prospect that would attract your support. We're talking about people coming from remote places, rural communities, to attend universities to do the degree that they desire, and maybe they want to be a historian. Maybe they live in Katherine and they don't want to be studying agriculture, as the member at the table talked about; they want to study literature. They've got the prospect of huge costs when they attend university.
Let's talk about regional universities. Smaller universities, like Charles Darwin University, have lost staff. The university has announced that 100 jobs and 20 courses are going, mostly in the TAFE sector. These course and job cuts are a result of a direct lack of funding for regional universities—628 students at 28 apprentices will be affected directly. These educational spaces at Charles Darwin University play an important role in individual communities, and we should not be restricting university opportunities for higher education students—or, in the case of TAFE students, apprentices—who want to learn.
And they shouldn't have to travel. As a result of these changes, for some courses, apprentices will have to travel interstate to get the qualifications they require out of their apprenticeship. Many young people who live in regional areas, and this is possibly reflected in the data I've just given you, are keen to stay near home and family or are unable to afford to move away to study, and they benefit greatly from regional TAFEs. But these are underfunded. They provide employment for locals and inject money into the local economy, but the government has made it really hard—a lot harder—for regional universities, like Charles Darwin University, to be able to provide either the vocational courses through TAFE or the higher education opportunities for Territory students. They've lost academics, tutors, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff and cleaners.
The then acting education minister for the Northern Territory, Eva Lawler, said that university cuts were forcing universities into submission. She said:
The federal government's cuts to university funding have hit regional universities such as CDU hard.
I cannot imagine why anyone in the government would think cutting investment in universities is a good idea, why increasing the cost of university places is a good idea, or even wanting to do as they've done: emphasise the importance of STEM projects, while at the same time universities receive 30 per cent less to teach medical scientists, 17 per cent less to teach maths student and 16 per cent less to teach engineers. How does this gel? You've jacked up the prices for humanities and arts students—the people who want to do literature or communications. You've said you want to get STEM students through the university, but you've cut expenditure. You've cut your investment in those very courses. The absurdity of that proposition is plain for everyone. The approach of this government to universities is disgraceful and it is inhibiting and limiting the opportunities for every Australian.