STUDENT LIFE / JUN. 03, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Australian Higher Education Under Threat

The Australian Federal Government has undertaken controversial changes to its tertiary education sector. The new measures require students to pay more for their university education. This has caused significant outrage by university students nationwide. Universities have been granted the freedom to set their own tuition fees from 2016, which will see the rise in course costs.

Nationwide, students have been protesting the governments’ increase in student loan interest rates. Protests have been held in Sydney and Melbourne with students demanding a fair just education system. Australian universities have witnessed many backlashes following the controversial changes. The Herald Sun has stated that students will begin to take on a greater share of the finances of their education.

Significant changes upon the tertiary education system

For students currently studying, the reforms will only take effect at the end of 2020. According to News.com.au, the effects upon university students include:

  • A 20% decrease in government contributions to student fees.
  • Graduates begin repaying their debt when they start earning $50,638 rather than the previous stated amount of $53,345.
  • Interest rates have risen up to 6%.
  • A six month waiting period is being imposed on school-leavers and new graduates for unemployment allowance.
  • Following the six month time frame, the government will offer six months’ of income support.
  •  Loan fees have been eliminated for undergraduate students.

Government Support for Educational Reform

The Federal Government has indicated its financial support for students completing diplomas and undergraduate degrees approved at higher education institutions, including TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and private colleges at a cost of $820 million to the budget. However, 20% of all extra revenue earned through increased fees will be used to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey has announced, “Through these once-in-a-generation reforms, the government will help build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs. With greater autonomy, universities will be free to compete and improve the quality of the courses they offer”. ABC News stated that Hockey believes that Australia should intend to have at least one tertiary institution in the top 20 in the world. “We must build an education and training system that becomes the envy of the world”, he said. There has been immense opposition to the Federal Government’s recent reforms. 

International Outcry

According to The Australian, Simon Marginson from the Institute of Education at the University of London described the Abbott government’s reforms as “the end of the world as we know it”. He believed that there would be “devastating” long term effects for some universities. Marginson says, “Imagine if you graduate after paying fees of $20,000 a year for four years and then do not work in a job paying enough to trigger repayment for most of the next 20 years because you have kids. With interest fixed at the bond rate you will be carrying a large debt that grows annually…”. He firmly asserts that the Australian government is attempting to divide social class within society, by paying close attention to the highly advantaged. He confirms, “This system will put a ceiling on the growth of social participation, in contrast to higher education in the rest of the world. That’s what happens when value becomes confined to institutions that only part of the population can readily enter and use…”. The lower-socio economic class will be facing a tough experience trying to get a university qualification following the recent changes.

University students are still outraged at the government’s decision to increase fees. Do you believe the price hike to be of extreme disadvantage to university students? 

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