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UMSU Stands with CAPA and NUS in Bury the Bill Campaign

The National Union of Students (NUS) and the Council of Postgraduate Students (CAPA) recently launched their Bury the Bill campaign to fight proposed changes to student loan legislation.

The Bury the Bill campaign encourages students, graduates and future students to contact their Senators and highlight the consequences of this legislation, which will compromise access to higher education in Australia. UMSU supports this campaign wholeheartedly and encourages all to get involved.

The proposed Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018 would see the HECS/HELP repayment threshold for student debt lowered from the current $54,000 to $45,000. This disproportionately impacts low income earners, especially women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates. The legislation also includes the creation of a lifetime student loan cap of $104k.

The lifetime loan cap particularly affects University of Melbourne students, as the Melbourne Model presumes that students do a broad undergraduate degree with the expectation to continue their studies in postgrad. In many cases, the cost of a postgraduate degree, in addition to a previously completed undergrad would exceed the proposed loan cap. This opens up the door for students having to pay up front or take out a separate personal loan to complete their university degrees, severely limiting accessibility for students wanting to gain further qualifications.

NUS and CAPA have spoken out against the bill.

Natasha Abrahams, CAPA National President says:

“We need to fight to retain the HECS-HELP system that enables more Australians to access a university education and the opportunities that come from this. Under the proposed changes, highly regarded degrees which lead to lucrative careers will only be accessible to those who can afford colossal upfront payments.”

Mark Pace, NUS National President says:

“Simon Birmingham, the Scrooge of Australian Parliament, gifted universities with $2.2 Bn in cuts last December. Now he’s seeking further budget repairs from those barely earning above minimum wage.”

“The number of graduates earning below the current repayment threshold reflects a failure of this government in providing a quality education. The solution is to adequately fund universities, not burden low income Australians with this Governments failures in higher education”.

It is unacceptable that these proposed changes unfairly target those who are most disadvantaged and already have the hardest time accessing university education. I urge all students to get involved in the campaign, sign the #BuryTheBill petition and contact a crossbench Senator.

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

What can I do?

Making your place at university contingent on whether you can pay thousands of dollars in university fees upfront is inaccessible and unfair. That is why UMSU is standing against the $2.2 billion cuts that the Government has made to higher education funding. This will disproportionately affect the accessibility of university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds including people from low socio-economic backgrounds, Indigenous students, and regional communities. The cuts have taken place in the form of a funding freeze, which will result in the defunding of 10,000 university places.

These cuts also open the door to a two-tiered higher education sector in Australia, similar to what currently exists in the United States. This is because smaller and regional universities who cannot attract full fee paying students to the same capacity as a bigger university like the University of Melbourne will also be most affected by the cuts.

At the same time, the proposed loan limit which caps the debt of individual students from tuition fees to $104,000, or $150,000 for science and medicine courses will disproportionately affect students at the University of Melbourne, as the Melbourne Model requires students to be able to enter graduate degrees after completing a broad undergraduate degree. For many, this loan limit would make postgraduate studies less accessible as more students may be forced to pay some of their degree upfront, or seek private loans to cover the gap.

The Government is also intent on lowering the HECS/HELP debt threshold from $55,000 to $45,000. This change signals the Government’s blatant disregard for young people and graduates, who are already struggling to find adequate employment and finding it harder to move out of home and buy a property than ever before.

UMSU opposes any cuts to higher education. When education funding is cut, students end up bearing the brunt of the burden. As such, we encourage all students to come join us at the National Student Day of Action, a protest organised by the National Union of Students, on March 21, 2pm at the State Library. When our education is under attack, we can take action together and let the government know that these cuts are the last thing that students need.

The UMSU contingent to the protest will start at the campus speak out at South Court at 12:30pm, and then we will head to the State Library together.

More protest details here:

Melbourne Uni speak out before protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/116061875839355/

Protest at State Library: https://www.facebook.com/events/540247649681517/

If you want to get involved in other education campaigns, feel free to get involved in the UMSU Education Department. Join the weekly Education collectives or Education Action Group.

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

Conor Clements
UMSU Education Public Department

UMSU stands for the safety of students in colleges, on campus and at events. As a university community, it is critical that we take steps to address issues of hazing, sexual assault and safety within residential halls. These issues have been put into the spotlight by the Red Zone Report, published by End Rape on Campus (EROC) and journalist Nina Funnel, and we are disappointed in the findings, especially those concerning the University of Melbourne.

The information in this report is not particularly new to the public. Since the release of the 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) ‘Change the Course’ survey into sexual assault and harassment, and subsequent reports, it has been clear that the university community can be doing more in fostering a better culture on campus. What the EROC Red Zone report in particular highlights is the importance and urgency to act on these issues in colleges. The report shows us the depth of how entrenched issues of safety exist for students who live in residence while it highlights that the University of Melbourne is not exempt from this toxic college culture.

College culture will not improve unless we act. UMSU calls on everyone in the university community to not only rally behind survivors, but to be united in making real change. The momentum around issues of safety on campus will only continue to grow. We need to ensure that our university is proactive in continuing to address and act on these issues.

UMSU stands with survivors – if anyone has lived experiences with any of the situations described in the Red Zone Report’, find support at the following organisations and services:

  • Safer Communities: https://safercommunity.unimelb.edu.au/
  • UMSU Advocacy Service: 8344 6546
  • UMSU Legal Service: 0468 720 668
  • CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault): 1800 806 292
  • Beyond Blue (anxiety and depression support): 1300 224 636
  • LifeLine (crisis support and suicide prevention): 131 114

Desiree Cai, UMSU President, & the UMSU Women’s Department

UMSU stands with the Indigenous community in calling for the change of the date of Australia Day. The history of dispossession and oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which the date 26th of January represents, means that rather than a day of celebration, our national holiday has become a day of mourning for this nation’s First peoples.

In the words of Ethan Taylor, Melbourne University Student & President of the Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students:

“January 26 is not something to celebrate. This date represents the beginning of the genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; more than 200 years of violence and oppression; and contemporary disadvantages that Indigenous Australians face. As such, for me and for my family, this day is a day of mourning, loss, and remembrance.

With the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26 came state sanctioned violence, confiscation of culture, abolition of rights to land, and the removal of children. The events that began on January 26 have brought about terrible suffering for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, as well as trauma that continues to this day. This date will forever hold with it our tears, our cries, and our pain.

Over the last 230 years, the stolen generation, segregation, enslavement and government violence have cultivated the disadvantages my generation faces today. January 26 is now also representative of the gap in life expectancy, infant and maternal health, institutional racism, the lower University retention and graduation rates, the third world state of our remote communities.

When we show resistance to January 26 and celebrations that are held on this day, we’re not just fighting to change a national holiday: we’re fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our chance to live free and equal in this country. We are fighting to bring closure to the traumas of colonisation and put an end to a dark chapter in Indigenous history

When we fight against January 26, we are fighting for the right to lead lives that filled with happiness, cultural, economic and social liberty, and equal opportunity. Stand with us in solidarity and support this campaign.”

UMSU recognises the ongoing struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who continue to suffer the effects of racism, oppression and dispossession that exists in our history. This land that we live, work and learn on is stolen land, and always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.

In fighting to change the date, we implore University of Melbourne students to come join us at the 2018 Invasion Day Protest from 11am on the steps of Parliament House.

More details for the protest here

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

The Turnbull Government has shown with its Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook budget update that it is not committed to supporting the right of any Australian to have access to tertiary education. The proposed funding freeze for higher education until 2020, which will cut $2.2 billion from the sector, will likely result in universities across Australia enforcing harsher caps limiting the number of students that they enrol.

Enrolments are declining anyway – this past year, according to the government’s own numbers, they barely increased to meet population growth. These proposed changes will not achieve anything other than locking out students who already face huge barriers in accessing tertiary education in the first place; namely, students who are already at a disadvantage, including those from low socio-economic backgrounds, regional communities, and indigenous students. This is the end of the demand-driven system that we’ve seen in the past few years as we know it.

The arguments in favour of this change are not particularly compelling. The government cites that universities enrol as many students as possible to secure more funding, only to consequently have high drop-out rates, but this is not an argument to end the demand-driven system for higher education – it’s an argument to make sure that these universities are actually treating their students fairly and giving them the quality of education that they will one day have to pay for.

The lowering of the HECS/HELP debt repayment threshold is another example of the government’s attacks on new workers and students. The total amount of HELP debt in Australia stands at $43.3 billion dollars – this is peanuts in comparison to the total amount of debt owed by Australian Federal, State and Local debt. The argument that we need to start somewhere in order to repay our debts similarly does not hold much water – why start with young people and students who are one day going to be the backbone of the Australian economy? Why not start with the 679 of Australia’s largest corporations who have not paid a cent in tax over the past financial year?

The current HECS repayment threshold of around $55,000 is meant to act as a guarantee that students who complete their degrees will not have to begin paying their debt back until they have secured a relatively stable source of income. Lowering this threshold to $45,000, which is barely higher than minimum wage, flies in the face of that intention. It’s also important to remember that the last time the government attempted this change after the release of the 2017-2018 budget in May, it was blocked by the Senate. This is not the first time we have fought against this, and through a combination of protests and constant lobbying, we can fight it off again.

UMSU stands against our government’s continued attacks on higher education, students and staff alike. We stand against any type of change that will see students having to pay more for their courses, and we stand in solidarity with the staff who are forced to work long overtime hours in order to teach us. Students are an increasingly vulnerable group in a society that has consistently undercut the needs of young people, but UMSU has the power to mobilise and fight for fairness, both in and out of the campus.

 

Conor Clements & Madi Sarich-Prince
UMSU Education Public Officers

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) is appalled by reports that the upcoming federal budget will contain university fee increases, a lowered HECS repayment threshold and funding cuts to universities.

Students will see a significant rise in course fees of 7.5%, while university funding will face a 2.5% cut. While student fees currently cover about 42% of the cost of a course, the Government will increase this to 46%. This means that for a four-year course, a student may need to pay an additional $3,600. In addition to this, the announced lowering of the HECS repayment threshold means that students will need to begin to repay their loans when they start earning $42,000 per annum, rather than the current $55,000.

These budget measures will have a catastrophic effect for students. The decrease of the HECS threshold will require students to repay their loans sooner and adversely affect students trying to achieve financial security in an unstable job market, dragging almost 200,000 extra graduates into the repayment system. And funding cuts reduce the quality of education while encouraging institutions to increase student fees.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham, through these budget measures, has shown that he is unaware of the realities students currently face. In an economy where a degree is increasingly worthless, it is ridiculous that students are expected to pay more. Graduate outcomes are not improving and graduates face a hostile job market. Increasing university fees in our current economic climate exploits students. It does nothing to improve the state of higher education or the prospects of graduates.

Furthermore, these cuts will disproportionately affect students from already disadvantaged backgrounds at a time when students face higher living costs 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.

Education Minister Birmingham uses the concerns of the average Australian to justify these cuts, stating that Australians want to know their tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently. However, this simply shifts the issue away from the Government and onto universities, and does not provide a sustainable long term solution to the nation’s funding shortage. By pushing the economic burden onto already struggling students, we are disadvantaging the entire nation’s future.

UMSU also condemns the decision to exclude student media from the Budget Lock-up. Farrago, the University of Melbourne student publication, has attended the budget lock up in 2015 and 2016. Other student media organisations have been attending since 2014. Why is it that these organisations have been suddenly excluded this year, when there are measures present in the budget which will specifically and drastically affect students? The fact that the voices of those who will be most affected by these changes are being excluded from the discussion is extremely concerning.

UMSU stands against funding cuts, fee increases, and the lowering of the HECS-HELP repayment threshold. It also stands against the silencing of student voices in this important discussion. If these are things you feel passionately about, here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Listen to Radio Fodder’s live coverage of the budget, happening from 7:30pm on next Tuesday 9 May on http://radiofodder.com.
  • UMSU will be organising a contingent to the NUS’ National Day of Action on 17 May to protest these predicted budget cuts. Find out more here.
  • The UMSU Education department will be running a campaign to give students an opportunity to voice their opposition to the budget on postcards, which we will send to relevant MPs. Keep an eye out at our next Tuesday BBQ, or contact educationpublic@union.unimelb.edu.au to find out more.

Stand with us. We are powerful together.

Statement from the 2014 Secretary:

Last year’s federal budget will have a direct and negative impact on students.

Money ripped out of the higher education sector and from student welfare is an attack on students and the University of Melbourne Student Union condemns this budget.

The proposed deregulation of student fees will decrease access to education, ensuring only those who can afford to pay with have the opportunity to learn. Compounded with changes to the HELP student loan scheme, students will be paying up to 6% interest, up from 2.9% and are required to repay their debt as soon as minimum wage is earned. UMSU condemns these changes as they will have a real and lasting affect on students’ ability to access education, and will leave students burdened with debt for years into full employment.

Replacing Newstart payments with Youth Allowance, and enforcing a six month wait before receiving the dole will leave students in great financial difficulty when they are unable to find work. Students with a disability will also be hit with changes to disability support. UMSU condemns changes to student welfare as it will leave thousands of students in financial difficulty and make tertiary education far less viable for many.

Samuel Donnelly
2014 UMSU Secretary