Monday, 14 July 2014
Is there any election promise that this government will not break? On 26 August 2012 Christopher Pyne said in a media release:
The coalition has no plans to increase university fees.
Then, on 1 September 2013, the then opposition leader, Tony Abbott, said:
I want to give people this absolute assurance: no cuts to education …
No plans to increase university fees and no cuts to education: two very clear promises, both broken, appallingly, in this savage budget.
The truth is that there is more than $5 billion in cuts to higher education alone in this budget. For a start, we see the government reduce the per-student Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding by an average of 20 per cent per student across all the disciplines. It is different for each discipline; it varies quite considerably. But on average it means an increase of $2,251 per annum in fees for each student just to cover the cuts that the government is making to the per-student contribution. The increases range from a modest one per cent increase in fees for allied health up to a 110 per cent increase in fees paid by the student for environmental studies. This means, in the case of the largest increase, a $9,876 per annum fee increase for a student of environmental studies. We see increases across the board: a 61 per cent increase in fees for social studies; a 97 per cent increase for communications, excluding audio-visual; a 49 per cent increase for visual and performing arts; a 24 per cent increase for nursing; a 58 per cent increase for engineering, science and surveying; a 110 per cent increase for environmental studies; a 43 per cent increase for dentistry, medicine and veterinary science; and a 43 per cent increase for agriculture. These are fee increases just to cover the cuts that the government is making to the per-student contribution. On top of that, of course, we have the increase in the interest repayments. Loans will have interest of between four and six per cent rather than the current two and three per cent. Students will be obliged to repay loans earlier. They will receive less financial assistance, and they will lose the HECS-HELP benefit for graduates in education, nursing, early childhood, maths and science.
These are appalling changes that will dramatically change the face of our education. There will also be over $200 million less for university teaching and research programs as a result of changes to indexation and $171 million in cuts to equity programs. The low-SES funding will be reduced by $51 million over four years nationally. The Education Investment Fund will be transferred to the Asset Recycling Fund. That is another loss, of $3.5 billion. And the reward funding of $121 million, which rewarded universities for meeting various government KPIs, will be cut. These are dramatic changes. Since the 1970s we have had a university sector where the quality of your work in school, your abilities, determined whether or not you could get into university. With this budget—with the Pyne-Abbott model—we see the end of that. We see a situation where, once again in this country, the ability to go to university will be determined not by your abilities but by the extent of your wealth.
In the electorate of Parramatta there is overwhelming rejection of this change. An independent survey, commissioned by the National Tertiary Education Union, of 2,000 people found that nearly 70 per cent of them reject the increase in fees for university. That is an overwhelming rejection of an appalling policy by a government that cannot keep a promise from one day to the next. But add on top of that the complete deregulation of the setting of fees that allows universities to raise fees above those massive average 29 per cent increases just to cover the cuts, and we see a university system that is absolutely skewed to those who can afford it and against those who cannot. I reject this government's model and urge them to reconsider.