Federal Budget – UMSU’s Response

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) is deeply disappointed to see that that young people and society’s most vulnerable were not the Government’s priorities in this Federal Budget.

Young people today face unprecedented challenges to financial stability. Graduate employment prospects are at an all-time low, having fallen from 88% to 68% in the last thirty years. We are being priced out of the house market while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Despite this, the Government has decided to hand down a budget that will exacerbate student hardships while providing tax cuts to big businesses. This budget illustrates just how the Government perceives young people – as a source of revenue, dole bludgers and drug addicts, rather than an integral aspect of the nation’s future. It shows just how out of touch the Government is with young people and their needs.

These are the areas of the budget that will hit students the hardest:

University fee increases

The rise in course fees for students means that for a four-year course, a student may need to pay an additional $3,600. It is ridiculous to expect students to pay more for a degree in an economy where they are increasingly worthless. Graduate outcomes have continued to fall and graduates face a hostile job market. Increasing university fees in our current economic climate is student exploitation.

The lowering of the HECS repayment threshold from $54,869 per annum to $42,000 will require students to repay their loans sooner and adversely affect students trying to achieve financial security in an unstable job market. It will drag almost 200,000 extra graduates into the repayment system. On top of this, the 2.5% cut in University funding programs will reduce the quality of education while encouraging institutions to increase student fees to make up the difference. We have seen time after time that funding cuts to universities lead to bigger class sizes, more staff redundancies and less available resources and support services for students. This instance will be no different. 

These measures will disproportionately affect students from already disadvantaged backgrounds at a time when students face higher costs of living than ever before. By increasing the barriers to higher education, students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, rural students, and more will be priced out of attending university.

Furthermore, by increasing fees for New Zealand and Australian permanent residents, an integral part of our student cohort will be discouraged to study in Australia. UMSU has already spoken to multiple students who are reconsidering doing further study in Australia because of these changes. 

Changes to allocation of Commonwealth Supported Places

We are deeply concerned about what the changes to the allocation of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) will mean for University of Melbourne students. The cuts to CSP places and the potential for changing scholarship criteria from year to year will create massive amounts of uncertainty for current undergraduate students.

It seems that students will be faced with a choice between doing postgraduate study at an exorbitant cost they hadn’t anticipated, or risk being unable to find a job with only a bachelor’s degree – a choice they never signed up to make.

These changes also have the potential to significantly discourage postgraduate study and disrupt the foundations of the University of Melbourne. The premise of the Melbourne Model is that students do a general undergraduate degree, followed by a specialised postgraduate degree, combined in one holistic package. New measures which increase the cost of these types of degrees will significantly lower their desirability. In an increasingly competitive market where a postgraduate degree is a requirement for many jobs, UMSU condemns any measure to discourage postgraduate study.

UMSU is heartened to see that the University of Melbourne has come out in opposition to higher education measures that will leave students worse off.

Welfare measures

The proposed measures to “crack down on dole bludgers” will require students to jump through yet more unnecessary hoops. The move to a demerits system assumes that young people cannot be trusted to do the right thing on their own. It ignores any number of reasons why someone might not be able to fulfil their requirements – e.g. health reasons or having a disability. To impose a condition that someone must take any job they are offered, lest their payments be cut for four weeks, will force people to accept any manner of work even if it is unsuitable for them.

The proposed random drug testing of welfare recipients, similarly, plays into negative and demeaning stereotypes about welfare recipients. It seems like the government is constantly trying to find new ways to try to catch out these mythical “dole bludgers”. However, as incidents like the Centrelink debacle at the beginning of the year show, these measures have been ineffective and enormously stressful for those subjected to them.

There is little evidence to support the notion that our current welfare system is overrun by “dole bludgers”. Rather, young people are trying as hard as they can to find work in a market that simply does not offer enough jobs.

A system which tries to solve youth unemployment by holding welfare payments hostage unless people apply for and accept jobs indiscriminately is absurdly short sighted and unrealistic. If young people are failing to fulfill their welfare payment requirements, the Government’s response should not be to suggest that they are trying to game the system. It should be to take them in good faith and treat them with compassion, understanding that there may be a number of other factors at play.

UMSU’s future budget actions

UMSU calls upon students at the University of Melbourne to stand in opposition to these measures in the Federal Budget.

We will be running a campaign to target cross-bench senators with the aim of stopping these budget measures from passing in the Senate. We will be getting students to send postcards voicing their opinions to these senators, as well as running a number of phone banks.

We are also supporting the National Union of Students’ National Day of Action on Wednesday 17 May. As well as organising a University of Melbourne contingent to the rally, we will be running a number of events in the lead-up including a banner painting session and a speak out BBQ pre-rally.

 

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President