Next week is Radical Education Week at Sydney Uni, as well as the NUS National Day of Action on Wednesday August 24. So it seems like as good a time as any to examine the state of higher education in Australian and at our university.
Severe cuts to higher education funding are back on the table under the current federal government. This is nothing new: successive governments have cut funding to universities and other institutions like TAFE, striking a massive blow not just to students, but also to the broader community and economy. International research shows that for every public dollar invested in higher education, $6 are saved through lower unemployment benefits and higher taxes.
It seems odd that a government which based its broader election campaign around “innovation” and “agility” would be unwilling to fund the very institutions and researchers who provide innovative ideas and technologies.
So why is education, a public good with a great investment return, seen as less worthy of government funding than other department areas? And why is it seen as fair for students to shoulder the cost burden of education through higher fees, brought on to make up the funding cut shortfall?
Clearly, despite the principle societies like Australia have been built on, that everyone deserves the right to an education, higher education is increasingly seen as a commodity: increasingly seen not as a right but as a privilege, where the quality of education provided is dependent less on your ability and more on your bank account and postcode.
It seems barely possible that less than 50 years ago, university education was free in Australia. Now the idea of students shouldering extreme debt for years after graduating is accepted as part and parcel with a degree.
So what can we do? For starters, students need to be aware and engaged with these issues. You can do this by attending an SRC Education Action Group meeting and the NDA next week. Read as much as you can and look at the policies of the major parties around education funding. We may be some time off the next election but we know that public opinion can change policy – as we saw with the failure to pass fee deregulation. And don’t just accept the rhetoric – challenge the narrative and move the parameters of the debate. Because investing in higher education is too important for us as a society to ignore, both now and for future generations.
Get informed, get involved. See you at the NDA and enjoy week four!