Casey Thompson explains potential changes to tertiary education under the new Government

The recently elected Abbott-led Liberal/National Coalition government will dramatically restructure education policy. Whilst Abbott’s final policies have not yet been announced we have a reasonable expectation of the nature of these policies due to Abbott’s, and other Coalition members’, comments on their education policy intentions in the past.

1. The Coalition has stated it will uphold the Labor Government’s $2.3 billion worth of tertiary education cuts (which were intended to fund the Gonski review that Abbott, however, will not fund). (As reported by Stephanie Peatling in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 22, 2013). It has been estimated by USYD management that these cuts will translate to the removal of $50 million worth of annual government funding to Sydney University.

2. Abbott has indicated he will likely deregulate fees for tertiary education, seeing an expected 25% increase in costs.  The Government currently regulates the maximum amount that a tertiary institution can charge an individual for a degree – they place a ‘cap’ on the fees we can be charged. Abbott has suggested he wishes to remove this so that universities can charge students as much as they desire. The costs of subjects has already been increasing however, in the past, it has had a level it could not exceed. The Coalition will allow students to be charged more for a less high quality degree. This will make university education inaccessible to those who are not wealthy.

3. The Coalition has indicated it will very likely privatise the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). This will mean your HECS loan will no longer be provided to you by the government but instead by a private capital firm. Unlike the government, these firms have as their primary interest profit maximisation, and thus HECS loans will become subject to the same treatment as all personal loans – repayments will include a market-set interest rate. This will mean that if you are charged $2,500 for a subject today, you will be repaying a much greater amount as interest has been added. A Bachelor of Arts graduate currently takes almost a decade to repay their debt; this timeframe will be extended as the debt is ever increasing. This, coupled with the deregulation of fees, will lead to an American-like education system where students are graduating with $100, 000+ worth of student debt. Many American graduates are unable to afford basic life necessities after university as the majority of their income is dedicated to repaying their student loan.

4. Christopher Pyne, the current Minister for Education, will not structure funding and policy in a way that will attempt to improve the quality of education. When commenting on school education  Pyne has claimed that he does not believe that large class sizes are a barrier to quality teaching and has said that attempting to reduce class sizes to improve the staff to student ratio would be a “waste of money” (as stated in an ABC LateLine interview on  July 16 2012).Pyne has in fact stated that he intends for our education system to have less teachers and that at least 43 000 Australian educators should be sacked (as reported by State School Teachers’ Union of Western Australia).

The Education Action Group (EAG) meets each Tuesday at 2 pm on the New Law Lawns and is currently organising a campaign in opposition to the Coalition’s education plans. Please feel free to come along and share your thoughts. You can also find out more about us on

Facebook at  www.facebook.com/SydneyUniversityActionGroup

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