June 26, 2020

Hands Off Our Education

Brehany Shanahan

Late last week, the Government announced a radical restructuring of university funding which will see the cost of studying humanities at university double, while student contribution to other degrees (such as engineering and science) will be reduced. These fee increases will apply to commencing domestic Commonwealth Supported Place students from 2021. However, this will impact all students, regardless of what you study or when you commence.

What does this mean for you?

The proposal will impact commencing domestic undergraduate and postgraduate students in Commonwealth Supported Places. We have broken it down for you below:

Discipline Annual Cost Change in student contribution
Agriculture, maths $3 700 62% decrease
Teaching, clinical psychology, English, nursing, languages $3 700 46% decrease
Allied health, other health, architecture, IT, creative arts, engineering, environmental studies, science $7 700 20% decrease
Medical, dental, veterinary science $11 300 No change
Law, economics, management and commerce $14 500 28% increase
Humanities, society and culture, communications, behavioural science $14 500 113% increase

 The scheme will make people pay more for courses that will earn them less when they graduate. In some cases, it will even see students pay more for their units than it costs to actually teach them. Currently the funding model matches fees to expected graduate income, and to the cost of teaching (which is higher for engineering than for arts or business, for example). This proposal reverses that, requiring graduates on lower incomes paying off thousands of student debt.

In doing so, the Government seeks to funnel students into courses they consider “job-relevant”. This means students in these disciplines will have to decide between studying what they are passionate about or taking on enormous debt. This is in spite of a lack of evidence to suggest the carrot-and-stick approach will create the outcomes the proposal seeks to achieve.

While this change may make some degrees cheaper for some students, there will be less funding per student across UWA.  

Students studying science degrees will pay less, but the Government has cut their contribution by $2760 per student per year.

 Engineering will also be cheaper for students but will also experience a 16% reduction in Government contribution, amounting to $4758 less funding per student per year.  

Likewise, Agriculture will experience a reduction in funding of $3444 per student per year. Maths, a reduction of $3513 per student per year. This makes it harder to staff, resource and teach these degrees. Several professional bodies have come out in opposition to the reform, including Engineers Australia and the Australian Psychological Association.

A reduction in revenue received by universities will put teaching resources under pressure in these faculties. This means things like larger tutorial sizes, overworked Unit Coordinators and less support staff, such as lab demonstrators. It may also see cuts across our university in other areas in an attempt to make up the funding shortfall.

Additionally, the proposal will reduce the proportion of government funding in the university system as a whole. The Government is introducing 39 000 new university places while simultaneously cutting funding to universities. Universities will have less money, less staff, fewer resources but more students.  This is in spite of the sector facing an estimated $4 billion drop in revenue, with thousands of jobs on the line.

Students should not have to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic or be penalised by choosing to study what we are passionate about. The Federal Government must fund higher education properly across the board, instead of cutting investment and pitting students against each other. 

So what can you do?

On Friday, we’re joining the Emergency Student Protest – Stop Fee Hikes, Stop Cuts in Forrest Chase. We encourage all students to come along to oppose these restructures.

We’ll be following it up with a Rally on Friday 3 July outside of Parliament House. If you’re keen to get more involved with action, join the Hands Off Our Education Organising Group.

**Make sure to follow social distancing requirements at protests and rallies – bring masks and hand sanitisers, and do not attend if you don’t feel well.**

You can also contact Education Minister Dan Tehan directly:
Call: (03) 5572 1100
Email: [email protected]