On Tuesday 13 May, Treasurer Joe Hockey’s Federal Budget speech was broadcast across the nation. Significant changes were made for higher education regulation and funding. Many, including the Opposition and other power parties, are calling it an “unfair” budget filled with “broken promises”.
Higher education is set to become a lot less affordable for many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The measures revealed in the budget conform closely with the recommendations made in the Kemp-Norton Review of the Demand Driven Funding System and the Commission of Audit.
“Our changes to higher education will allow universities to set their own tuition fees from 2016,” Hockey said. “With greater autonomy, universities will be free to compete and improve the quality of the courses they offer. Some course fees may rise and some may fall.”
However many other parties are sending the message that they won’t stand for it.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne have revealed that Labor and the Greens will oppose the changes to university funding and student support, when they gave their formal replies to the Federal Budget on Thursday 15 May. Clive Palmer has also come forward and opposed the changes, announcing a new policy for free higher education.
Labor Senator and former Minister for Higher Education Kim Carr told Farrago he was unhappy with the Budget. He compared the higher education decisions to “Margaret Thatcher on steroids”.
Senator Carr opposed the deregulation of fees on equity grounds, stating “you cannot meet the requirements of being able to secure sufficient numbers of graduates in areas of genuine national need but have low starting salaries.
“How are we going to fund physics? How are we going to be able to attract the necessary students in those areas that don’t have the glamorous salaries?”
The approach to higher education in the Budget was not at all a surprise for Senator Carr. “It might go well in Toorak, or on the North shore of Sydney, but it not going to go very well with the Australian people. It’s not going to go very well in Footscray.”
He rejected the idea of the Commission of Audit as an independent body, labelling it a “show trial exercise” that is part of “the hoax of conservative politics”. He blames the Coalition for issues the Budget has caused. “When you come into government you have a commission of audit—Kennett did it, the Queensland government did it—and you attack the unions and the Labor party.”
He believes there is over $5 billion being taken out of universities and $6.4 billion dollars altogether if the cuts to the CSIRO and other science and research programs are included. He is certain the effect on Australia’s innovation system will be felt for a very long time.
According to Carr, a fundamental question is: “What is the government’s role in properly funding science and research in Australia?”
“Frankly, running up the white flag on that issue is just not an option,” he says.
Shorten and Milne both seemed unlikely to budge in their budget, both saying “bring it on” to the possibility of an election.
Milne provided a few examples of the effects the proposed changes will have. She said it is estimated a degree in nursing will increase from $18,000 to $89,000 and a degree in engineering will increase from $26,000 to $106,800.
Shorten said to Tony Abbott: “Remember, it is never about you or I, Prime Minister. It’s about the future of our nation and the well-being of the Australian people.”
While the future for higher education remains uncertain, the final result will be the product of significant compromises in the fight to improve access equality.
It’s always good to hear students’ perspectives on higher education. We’re giving them a slightly louder voice with ‘Farrago analyses higher education’—a spin-off of our higher ed series. You can read more analysis here.