Proposed University Changes are Cruel and UnfairSpeech
Labor will be opposing the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020 because it will make it harder and more expensive for young Australians to go to university.
As one year 12 student said to me earlier this week, 'Why does Scott Morrison want to punish us for choosing to study humanities? It's so unfair.'
This is the voice of so many people across my region. Their concern is real, because this bill would increase the student fee load, meaning that students will pay more, a lot more. It would also cut Commonwealth university funding, meaning the government will pay a lot less. They will instead shift the debt burden to young students. It will leave universities with fewer resources to teach students, meaning students may miss out on the best education possible.
This is a radical, retrograde step regarding university funding. It is a dangerous threat to our system of higher education in Australia, and it would have a devastating impact on young people in my communities across Corangamite. As we know, 2020 has been a nightmare year for young Australians. COVID-19 has resulted in students having to study remotely. They've missed out on key milestones, from formals to schoolies to gap years to the pursuit of dreams. For young Victorians, in particular, this has been a year where they have been unable to see their friends and classmates. So the last thing they need now is to be saddled with a lifetime of debt if they continue their studies.
Yet this government is trying to ram through this legislation which would mean 40 per cent of students would have their fees increased to $14,500 a year, doubling the cost for thousands of them. I've spoken to many of these young people in my electorate about what impact these proposed changes will have on their lives and their education. One young woman who attended a recent forum I ran with the member for Sydney about these proposed changes was Lily Watterson. Lily is a bright, articulate, passionate young woman who is currently a student at Surf Coast Secondary College in Torquay. Lily hopes to study an arts degree next year. I want to share with you Lily's words about the impact of this bill. She said: 'I live regionally, so I definitely can't commute to uni every day, and having this added pressure of the fees more than doubling is just crazy. There is no way I can afford to move to Melbourne and support myself. I've got a single parent, so it's not like I'm going to get my rent paid for every week.'
Lily is not alone. I am truly worried for so many young people in my community who won't be able to afford to go to university because of these changes. And it's not just high-school students who will be affected; current university students will also be impacted. Ana Machado Colling is another intelligent young woman who attended the forum. She has already done a Bachelor of Arts and hopes to go on to a master's. This is what she told me: 'A lot of us have found ourselves unemployed due to COVID, and study has become a strong alternative for us. For a master's degree to cost something like $80,000 is just impossible. It will go over our HECS-HELP, which means we'll have to pay upfront. I don't understand how that's feasible for someone living out of home, paying rent, studying full-time.' Over and over when I speak to young people in my community, they're concerned and anxious about these changes. They're worried about the heavy burden of debt. They're trying to alter their plans, plans that they've had for years and years, because of the threat of these changes. They're being denied the opportunities that I had, that many others in this chamber have had and that previous generations have had.
I want to talk now about the particular impact this bill will have on the humanities. This bill would more than double the fees for thousands of people studying the humanities, locking many young Australians out of the chance to study in this field. I'm a proud graduate of the humanities. I studied drama and literature as an undergraduate and went on to study media communications at postgraduate level, as well as teaching. I'm so grateful for the tertiary education I received. It has taught me much about the world around me, and I use the knowledge and skills I gained at that time every day. I also believe that the humanities are more important than ever. The big problems we face right now—declining trust in our political system and institutions, like this parliament; inaction on climate change; income inequality; and injustice—are social problems, problems of collective action, and it is the humanities which equip us to deal with these social problems. As Robert French, the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia and former Chief Justice of the High Court, has said:
Humanities is the vehicle through which we understand our society, our history, our culture.
Studying the humanities helps us to reflect, to inspire, to analyse, to create, to move people, to understand and to change the world around us for the better.
Importantly, studying the humanities also helps young people get jobs—good jobs, rewarding jobs, well-paid jobs—in the modern workforce. According to recent research, people with humanities degrees have higher employment rates than science and maths graduates. This government claims it's trying to redirect young Australians towards industries where they can get jobs, but it has absolutely no evidence to back this up. What this government is actually doing is making it harder for young Australians to study courses that help them get jobs.
It's important that at this time of a pandemic we have strong university and TAFE sectors, and we know that Australia is now in the midst of a deep recession. I cannot think of a worse time for this government to make it harder for young Australians to study the humanities. I urge the government to move beyond this petty attack on the humanities and think about creating jobs and opportunities for our next generation. Give young people hope for the future and stop punishing them.
One of the aspects of this package that I find particularly troubling is the significant impact it will have on regional areas like mine. The government have said they want to help more young people in regional areas, but this bill won't actually leave regional, rural and remote universities, or their staff and their students, better off. It will leave them worse off. This is because regional universities deliver a greater proportion of courses that will have a funding cut than non-regional universities and because, under the government's proposal, nearly twice as many regional and remote students will have to pay the highest rate of student fees. I am proud to represent regional Victoria. Parents in my community want their children to have the opportunity to go to university. They know that getting a great education is a ticket to a great job and a lifetime of opportunities for their kids. They do not want to see their children priced out of an education.
This legislation will also have serious implications for university jobs, particularly in regional areas. Universities support 14,000 jobs in regional Australia. They support jobs in my electorate at Deakin University. Funding cuts to regional universities will mean fewer jobs in our regions for academics, for support staff, for administrators and for service providers. Deakin has already flagged that 400 jobs will go due to the pandemic. I'm fighting hard to try and keep these jobs, to keep these people's livelihoods, and I will continue to oppose bad policy that results in fewer jobs in my electorate of Corangamite. The Morrison government likes to talk a big game on supporting the regions, but time after time after time, from changes to broadcasting to cuts in services and now these dangerous changes to higher education, this government has let us down. I'm proud of Labor's record on education in regional areas. Labor's policies in government saw enrolments of students from regional and remote areas increase by 50 per cent. I don't want to see that go backwards.
In closing, this bill is cruel, it is unfair and it is bad policy. It cuts billions from the sector while doing nothing to help young people get into high-priority courses and jobs. It will make thousands of students pay more than double what they now pay for their qualification, and it will continue the Liberals' track record on years of neglect and cuts to our higher education sector. The young people in my communities who have had a chance to meet and talk to me about this bill are so passionate, they're so clever and they're so articulate. They want to study at university, they want to get good jobs and they want to contribute to our community. I feel so much for them not just because of the big challenges they've faced this year but because this government, the Morrison government, is planning to make their future so much harder. As a mother of two daughters, aged 17 and 18, I've seen firsthand just how tough this year has been for our younger generation. Studying at home, coming home from university, having to study online—it is very challenging. For all those young people in my community who might be following this debate, I want you to know: I hear you, I stand with you, and Labor will fight for you.Share Tweet