University Fees Battle: Unions

Tuesday, 16 June, 2015

Education unions are urging education minister Christopher Pyne to reconsider further pursuing university fee deregulation, with some calling him to “get off his ideological high-horse”.

On March 17, the Senate rejected proposed higher education changes, including the deregulation of university fees, for the second time in three months.

However, Mr Pyne has vowed on multiple occasions to continue fighting for fee deregulation even if the Senate voted down on the bill.

In an Age report on March 18, Mr Pyne was quoted as saying “You couldn?t kill me with an axe”, referring to his stance on the policy.

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education (Public) Officer Conor Serong expressed concern about threats from Pyne and government MPs about the policy’s comeback.

“[These threats] show that the Coalition government hasn’t been listening to students, that they’re trying to pursue an ideological agenda without any concern for who that impacts,” said Mr Serong.

When asked what he would possibly say to Mr Pyne, Mr Serong believed he had a few “choice phrases”, but ultimately called the minister out on his ideological stance.

“I’d tell Chris to get off his ideological high-horse,” said Mr Serong, “to recognise that his reforms aren’t positive and re-evaluate his position on the front bench.”

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) University of Melbourne branch president Steve Adams has also called on Mr Pyne to have a “complete rethink” about his stance on fee deregulation.

Mr Adams noted that while the education minister tried to centre the debate on higher education’s benefits towards students’ careers, Mr Pyne ignored reviewing the societal value education had.

“Christopher Pyne has tried to make it about the value to the student, and put the onus on them in a user-pay system,” said Mr Adams.

“But we need these people to be doctors, lawyers, and more. If everyone shirked their responsibility because the cost of paying for university is too high, where would we [society] be?”

While Mr Adams acknowledged that there needed to be a review on how universities are funded, he did not believe deregulating university fees was the right choice.

?I agree that universities are underfunded, but to deregulate university fees is not the way to go,? said Mr Adams. ?It is unfair, and society thinks so too, which is why it didn?t pass.?

Australian Liberal Students? Federation (ALSF) secretary Matthew Lesh agreed that higher education reform was vital, but believed the status quo was unsustainable.

“Rejecting necessary reform means dooming our vital higher education system,” said Mr Lesh. “It means our universities will be less dynamic, worse funded, and ultimately less able to compete.”

Mr Lesh also questioned whether the poor must subsidise higher education for graduates who would come out to earn “on average $1 million extra” throughout their lifetimes.

The reform bill, which would allow universities to set their own undergraduate fees, was defeated by 34 votes to 30, with the government three votes short of six crossbench votes needed.