James Leeder discusses what happens when the government raises course costs and student debt.

It is clear to anyone who has seen the QS university rankings over the last few years that Australian higher education has a funding problem. This problem has not only meant that we have seen higher education cuts repeatedly over the last few years, but also that a clear principle over how education should be funded has now cemented itself; that the cost of education should be borne by the individual.

At the moment we know that the federal government is considering moves to reduce direct funding of courses, as well as funding of universities as a whole. The removing of subsidies for courses (which means higher course costs for students), which has recently been proposed by the Group of 8 universities themselves (this includes Sydney) for law, economics and business degrees, has also been lauded as an optimal solution. Ultimately, changes that raise course costs only have negative impacts to students and to society, and this has been seen clearly when similar proposals have been implemented in other countries.

A research briefing on the effect of the 2010 higher education reforms in England was published by the British parliament in February this year. It details in clear statistics the impact that removing subsidies and uncapping fees had on students. It found that within two years of implementation, large reductions to student numbers occurred with a 12% reduction in domestic and international undergraduates and a 9% reduction in postgraduates by 2012. These drops where serious enough to warrant a response from the Governments’ Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which described them as “significant”. Considering what the reforms did, it is not hard to see why. Students are not interested in graduating with crippling debt and for many potential students, particularly those who are less fortunate, raising fees shifts the balance in their consideration of whether or not to go to university. Making university more costly and placing the burden of fees directly onto students drastically affects the accessibility of tertiary education. For a country that prides itself on high social mobility and a deeply egalitarian culture, moves to reduce the accessibility of university should be stopped at all costs.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the government does not care what the impacts of its changes are. They have already reformed the start-up scholarship, a scholarship for students who receive centrelink, to change it into a HECS-style loan, meaning poorer students will now be graduating with more debt than their wealthier counterparts. If you care about what these changes may do, I encourage you to get involved with the SRC and
I hope to see you at the National Day of Action against the proposed cuts on March 26.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply