Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009
I want to reiterate the Greens’ support for the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009, despite the fact that we do not think it is perfect. We would have preferred to see the money collected from students going to student organisations. We have said that all along. We have been able to negotiate matters which have dealt with some of our concerns, particularly in relation to ensuring that postgraduate international students and undergraduate students will receive the same level of service delivery, welfare support and elected representation under the guidelines in this bill.
First and foremost, I want to address one of the issues Senator Mason raised. He said that the profile of universities has changed somewhat from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. I completely agree—it has. Twenty or 30 years ago, people got their education for free. Nowadays, students are paying more than ever for their university degrees. Students are paying more than ever for their education, but with limited services. They are working long hours because the youth allowance, if they are able to get it—and that is another issue, which is in debate—is not sufficient to cover their costs. Living costs for university students have risen dramatically in the last decade. Students are paying more than ever, not just for the piece of paper that they get at the end but for their entire university career, but with absolutely limited support, advice and services. That is what this bill is trying to address. When students are paying more than ever for their education, we need to ensure that they have the support to maximise opportunities, to ensure that their university career is the best it can possibly be. That is what this legislation is attempting to deal with—to ensure that the services are there when they need them, that the advice is there when they need it. If they need support and advocacy to challenge an unfair decision made by a university board, they have somewhere to go and someone to act as an advocate for them. That is what this bill is aiming to achieve.
There has been a long debate, not just today and yesterday but in the other place as well, about the politics of this issue. When it comes down to it, you are paying $30,000 or $40,000—which is what my HECS bill was; I paid $40,000 for my education. I needed support, advice and advocacy to ensure that my university career was the best it could possibly be and I was lucky enough to have that. Nowadays we are asking students to pay more than ever, with limited support and limited advice. This bill is trying to ensure that university students get a holistic experience so that when they graduate they do not just get a piece of paper which says, ‘You have this degree,’ but they have the networks, the support and the hands-on experience to give them the edge out in the workforce. As I said, I think this bill is far from perfect, but it is better than the situation we have now.