Fighting Fee De-regulation

Last week, our Vice Chancellor Michael Spence appeared on the 7:30 Report with Glynn Davis, Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University, and Rose Steele, President of the National Union of Students (NUS). They were there to publicly condemn the Abbott government for tying research funding to the university fee deregulation package. If the package is voted down in the Senate, no research funding will be assured, leaving 1,700 science jobs at risk, and potentially setting back research and innovation projects by several years. It’s outrageous that the government would hold research funding hostage in the name of gutting the higher education system.

At one point, Michael Spence spoke about the fantastic “19th Century” movement for a free, public, secular education system in Australia which afforded both him and the other Vice Chancellor a free university degree. He then made a smooth segue into corporate greed, maintaining the “accepted wisdom of Australian politics, on both sides of politics” is that students should have to front costs, as universities are businesses, and education a private investment. It is important to remember that indeed it was the Labor party who opened the door for more brutal attacks on the higher education through the Gillard government’s cuts to higher education.

Spence argued further that university fees should be deregulated so that universities could compensate for the lack of government funding, and to respond to “local conditions”. Spence basically reckons he should be able to determine how wealthy you must be to study at the University of Sydney. The other VC agreed wholeheartedly; the most prestigious universities in the country encourage competition and consumer choice. Living and studying in Sydney doesn’t permit many a particularly glamorous lifestyle, but the university does offer a whole lot of opportunity. Most students live under the poverty line, but how much more would/could you pay? How many meals will you sacrifice for your education?

Fee deregulation is being heard in the Senate on the day that this edition of Honi goes to print. The government is desperate to broker a deal with cross benchers to get the bill through. We hope the cross benchers hold strong in their opposition, and students have another chance to enter the public debate by demonstrating in numbers on March 25th in the first National Day of Action for higher education of the year, outside Fisher Library at 1 PM. And join the EAG. Now would be the time.

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