In what could only be described as the best day of his life, Australia’s Treasurer Joe Hockey celebrated the deregulation, funding cuts and fee increases for universities with song and dance whilst students struggle to make ends meet with growing debt. With the announcement
of the Australian Budget for 2014-15, the Federal Government has declared that the ‘age of entitlement’ has been replaced with a new ‘age of opportunity’.
However with the recklessly high number of broken election promises the Federal government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott has in fact reduced opportunities for many prospective and current universities to attain their tertiary qualifications. The Liberal party’s changes to the tertiary education sector includes ripping funding from universities, increasing tuition fees through giving the green light for deregulation on the supposed basis of capitalist competition as well as adding additional fees to government student loans.
A Student Representative Council and Education Collective spokesperson from the University of New South Wales, one of the Australia’s leading tertiary education institutions stated that:
“the Government is likely to introduce a 10% loan fee for all HECS debts, handing another $1000 per year onto your average law, economics, commerce, or accounting degree. And there’s more. The government has even suggested that they will scrap the enrolment target for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.”
By 2016, it is expected that most university degrees in Australia will cost from $100,000 to $200,000. Paying in excess of $30,000 a year in student tuition fees would become the normative according to academics who cite Joe Hockey’s budget and the deregulation of the university system as the principle causes of increasing student fees and subsequent debt. The result of these changes to a model ever more so leaning towards the United States’ college system will be of a major concern “for people… living in a lower economic area with a single income”. In essence the Liberal government has given most students degrees of hip-pocket pain with rising tuition fees instead of easing the burden of university education costs.
In response to the changes announced in Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s Federal Budget, university students across Australia have stepped up their national campaign in protest of the Abbott government’s decisions to deregulate the system and cut funding from tertiary education. Rallies denouncing the Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the University of New South Wales Vice-Chancellor Frederick G Hilme support of university deregulation took place with students and staff across multiple disciplines of academia mourning the “death of our education” system.
Hundreds of students at the University of New South Wales marched from the steps of the main library, a symbolic representation of academia to the doors of the chancellery building in a mock funeral procession grieving from the destruction of a relatively fair and supportive tertiary education system. Billy Bruffey, leader of the Hands off our Education/Death of our Education Rally at the University of New South Wales commented that:
“Today’s rally is a pretty clear message to both our Vice-Chancellor and Prime Minister that students will not stand by and let fee deregulation become a reality in Australia."
Protesters today have demanded a fair and affordable public university system and refuted right-wing rhetoric that young people should bear the brunt of budget austerity.” Students across Sydney and Australia plan to continue in their demonstrations against the government’s deregulation, funding cuts and fee increases to universities with petitions, rallies and
campaigns in capital cities in the coming weeks.