Fed’s push to double humanity fees a devastating blow for Canberra’s young people

Rebecca Vassarotti 1 July 2020 15
Student

Is it fair that as students enter the workforce and homebuyers market that they also have university debt? Photo: File.

The Federal Government’s announced changes to university fee structures have been rightly met with shock, anger and dismay.

The change is purported to encourage people into maths and science degrees, which the government claims are more likely to result in employment than studying humanities. However, for the huge numbers of people who have built varied and interesting careers on the foundation of a degree in humanities, it’s hard to see the logic of this argument.

Given the potential economic impact of this decision on universities, it’s also hard to understand the timing of the decision. It seems strange to be picking on a sector reeling from the impact of COVID-19 and the loss of up to a third of their student revenue overnight due to the loss of enrolments from international students. Pursuing international students has been a central part of the sector’s business model for some time and has been fuelled in part by neo-liberal policies that have been promoted by conservative governments. For years we have seen a significant reduction in public funding of universities and the corporatisation of the sector.

It’s also pretty extraordinary given this sector has been one of the big losers of recent government support, with most university staff specifically excluded from income support such as JobKeeper. This bodes particularly poorly for a city such as Canberra which boasts a number of major university campuses and welcomes this sector as a central part of our economic activity.

It’s a devastating blow to the many young people planning to attend university in the next few years.

These are the young people who have taken to the streets to protest inaction on climate change, who are well aware that they are all but priced out of the housing market and are in the midst of the most difficult high school year in generations. Like young people before them, they have been thinking long and hard about what they want to study. Now they have to decide if they are willing to accrue a $50,000 Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) loan in order to pursue knowledge and equip themself with the critical thinking skills this government seems too scared of.

Some people will try to soothe young people by saying that due to the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) fees are deferred until they enter the workforce, so they shouldn’t worry about it.

However, it is a deception to suggest that a debt of tens of thousands of dollars will be quickly cleared once today’s students enter the workforce. It seems particularly cruel to ask this generation to face this sort of debt given the likelihood they will be facing huge housing debts, and likely to be the generation having to pay the cost of climate inaction.

At its core, it’s an announcement that seems to go against our aspirations to remain a well-educated country able to deal with the complex challenges that we will face in the future. Surely we should be removing all financial barriers and offering free tertiary education to everyone who wants it rather than asking them to face yet another debt that earlier generations have not had to deal with.

I think we need to support our young people to study the subjects they love without facing years of indebtedness. What do you think?

Rebecca Vassarotti is an ACT Greens Candidate for Kurrajong in the upcoming ACT Territory Election.


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15 Responses to Fed’s push to double humanity fees a devastating blow for Canberra’s young people
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Warwick Jay Warwick Jay 10:01 am 02 Jul 20

'Surely we should be removing all financial barriers and offering free tertiary education to everyone who wants it rather than asking them to face yet another debt that earlier generations have not had to deal with'....Right...lets just plant some more of those cash growing trees to pay for your utopian vision.

    Katrina Jay Katrina Jay 1:44 pm 03 Jul 20

    Warwick Jay I agree! It is crazy to charge for critical education. However in the earlier generations there were far fewer people undertaking degrees. So perhaps a nominal charge is reasonable. We are dumbing down our country when we don't support education that teaches people how to think critically, which is what you get in Arts degrees.

    Warwick Jay Warwick Jay 2:05 pm 03 Jul 20

    Not charging for degrees would only turn unis into more of a sausage factory than they already are, at vast expense. It needs to be accessible and affordable, but the greens get so caught up in their utopian fantasies that they cant come up with realistic policies on stuff like this. Maybe they should worry about issues which are actually within the ACT Government's jurisdiction like keeping organic waste out of landfill?

Victoria Robertson Victoria Robertson 9:03 am 02 Jul 20

I always think of this - makes me laugh!

Shane Carter Shane Carter 7:23 am 02 Jul 20

Free-thinking people are the enemy of any government that seeks to rule rather than govern on behalf of the people.

Therefore it makes sense for humanities to be targeted by our federal government...

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 8:03 am 02 Jul 20

    Shane Carter because if you don’t sign up for a humanities degree you aren’t a free thinker ???

    Shane Carter Shane Carter 8:26 am 02 Jul 20

    Corey Karl that’s your take away from this...?

    Tony Bennett Tony Bennett 9:45 am 02 Jul 20

    Shane Carter free thinking people are the enemy of everyone. We are all in a herd/team thinking the same way. I’m glad I was evicted years ago.

    Shane Carter Shane Carter 12:29 pm 02 Jul 20

    Tony Bennett I got nothing...

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