UMSU Stands Against MYEFO Education Cuts
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