Education Officer’s Report – Week 10, Sem 1, 2016

Liam Carrigan and Dylan Griffiths

Treasurer Scott Morrison did not mention higher education in his 2016 budget speech – but make no mistake the Liberals remain determined to squeeze students. They have had to walk away from their preferred policy of full fee deregulation, citing “community concern”. We can chalk this up as a victory for large student demonstrations in 2014.

We won the battle, but not the war. Major reforms have simply been delayed by one more year. They are hoping to keep these plans quiet until after the election in July. Our demonstration on May 11 will be crucial to putting a spotlight on the Liberals’ plans and making sure they aren’t re-elected.

The 2016 budget contains $2 billion worth of cuts over the next four years. To achieve these cuts, they have left open the option of a 20 per cent funding cut to undergraduate degrees.
At the same time a “discussion paper” has been released which outlines other “optional” proposals to be implemented from January 2018, including:

  • Deregulation for “flagship” courses, which could enroll 20 per cent of students
  • Increased student fees to raise students’ contribution from 40 per cent to 50 per cent of cost of degrees
  • Lower the income threshold for HECS repayments (eg. from $54,000 to $42,000)
  • Collect unpaid HECS from the dead, or tie HECS repayments to household income

The Liberals are determined to claw more money off ordinary students and those who can least afford it. Yet they have handed down a budget with a massive tax cut for big business, down to just 25 per cent.

Funding cuts will encourage further corporatization of the sector as universities slash jobs and courses to make up for lost funding. At the same time, universities will rely more on corporate “donors” and industry partnerships, which distort our education.
Whilst they have dumped full deregulation, they are trying to get a watered-down version through the back door. The discussion paper suggests that perhaps 20 per cent of students could be enrolled in deregulated “flagship” programs – if this goes through, it could mean 1 in 5 students paying skyrocketing fees! The Sydney University Vice Chancellor has already named veterinary studies, medicine, agriculture and music as courses he wants deregulated at USyd. This could still mean that $100,000 degrees become a reality.
As it stands, there is no crisis. $32 billion has been budgeted for defence spending this year. It costs about $1.2 billion annually to maintain offshore processing centers that detain refugees. Now Turnbull is cutting the corporate tax rate further. Yet the government has ruled out changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax that could save upward of $11 billion.

Spending priorities, as always, are political priorities.

As a social good, university should be free – just as primary and secondary education are. It can be publically funded through higher corporate tax and closing tax loopholes for the rich. When university fees were first introduced, it was just a tiny “administration fee”. Now we can see clearly this was the thin edge of the wedge. We have to stop this trend in its tracks.

The fight we need:

The fight against Abbott’s 2014 budget showed that protesting works. Student rallies, along with “Bust the Budget” demonstrations, and a vigorous campaign to Save Medicare, helped keep public opinion against Tony Abbott – and even got him kicked out of office!
The May 11 rally is our first chance to send a warning signal to the Turnbull government, and show we are prepared for a fight if they are re-elected.

There is every reason to believe we can beat Turnbull. His popularity has been falling. The gloss has come off. People can see he stands for everything Abbott did: refugee cruelty, homophobia, climate inaction, attacking Medicare, union-bashing, and handouts for the rich.

We need to connect these fights and build a united fightback against the Liberals’ agenda. Students can help lead this fight.

Join the National Day of Action, Wednesday May 11, 1pm, Fisher Library, Sydney University.

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