I read the other day that Germany has just (re?)introduced free tertiary education. Will this ever happen here or are we moving even further away, towards the USA's model?
I don't mind Palmer's comments
WILL university fees be the issue that haunts the Abbott Government?
A Labor TV campaign will kick off tonight and will highlight the Opposition‘s determination to destroy government plans to deregulate university funding as a major priority.
The â€œdebt sentenceâ€ campaign will claim degrees could cost young people much as $100,000.
It will be aimed at young people of university age and parents and its start will coincide with high school exams and the period when graduates are starting to look at uni courses. The ad will be run â€œstronglyâ€ in Sydney, Brisbane, Tasmania and regional areas, said a Labor source.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has told Labor MPs he wants to destroy the plan either now or in an election campaign.
Mr Shorten will be the focus of the campaign because of the inspiration of his late mother Ann who was prominent academic and encouraged her children to study.
A committee inquiry report into the government‘s bill for deregulation and other changes to the university sector is expected to be published today, and the Senate will debate the issue this week.
Although Labor, along with the Greens and Palmer United Party say they are opposed to the bill, the Group of Eight, an informal network of Australia‘s most established universities, is urging the Senate to pass the legislation with some amendments.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten is fighting changes to university fees. Source: News Corp Australia
The Abbott Government‘s plans, released as part of the Budget earlier this year, include allowing universities to set their own fees starting in 2016, to allow an increase in interest charges of up to six per cent on debts and for a 20 per cent reduction in the Federal Government‘s contribution to student‘s fees.
The income threshold at which students start paying back their debt would also be lowered to $50,638 from July 1, 2016. The cut-off for 2014-15, was set at $53,345.
Mr Shorten told a caucus meeting in Canberra today that Labor‘s campaign against the changes was being run in the tradition of the late prime minister Gough Whitlam, who brought in free university tuition.
The new Labor Party campaign will include posters and online and television advertising to force the government to drop its uni changes.
University campaign: Inspired by Gough Whitlam. Source: Supplied
â€œThe Liberals‘ plan to deregulate university fees means we will wind up with a two-tiered Americanised system,â€ Mr Shorten said.
The United States has one of the most expensive tertiary systems in the world. Federal funding is reserved solely for military institutions and while state universities provide some assistance for local students, the privatisation of higher education has led to a system of expensive and inaccessible Ivy League schools at the top and community colleges at the bottom.
Community colleges cater almost exclusively to the lower socio economic students with yearly fees averaging around $3,000 while private universities charge an average of $30,000 a year for a four-year degree.
Mr Shorten has vowed to ensure the Abbott Government‘s proposed changes to Australia‘s university education sector was a major issue at the next federal election, due in 2016.
â€œWe will fight the Liberals‘ debt sentence and we will prevail,â€ Mr Shorten said.
In an online letter to voters, Mr Shorten says: â€œNo matter where you grew up or what school you went to, no Australian should have to pay $100,000 for a degree. It‘s just not fairâ€.
PLENTY OF OPPOSITION
Labor, the Greens and Palmer United Party‘s Clive Palmer have all said they are opposed to the package.
â€œA free education‘s very important,â€ Mr Palmer said told ABC this morning.
â€œYou don‘t want to graduate with $100,000 or $200,000 debt, or you‘ll become an accountant or something very mundane.â€
â€œYou want these sorts of people (students) to take risks, so you get the Googles, the Apples, the Yahoos,â€ he said. â€œThey‘re not going to take risks if they‘ve got $200,000 in debt already. And we become a society with no ideas at all.â€
Palmer: â€œA free education‘s very importantâ€. Source: News Corp Australia
â€œWe (the PUP) believe that Christopher Pyne‘s benefited from a free education policy, otherwise he wouldn‘t be where he is now. Bill Shorten‘s had a free education policy, and I think Tony Abbott had it too, although that may have been a Jesuit-funded one.â€
â€œWe‘re a low debt country, why shouldn‘t we invest in our own people, in our own children?â€
WILL DEGREES COST $100,000?
The Abbott Government has defended its plans, with Education Minister Christopher Pyne saying deregulation will boost university freedom, productivity and dynamism.
He said in June that competition between universities would actually force student fees down.
â€œIf universities think they can get away with charging exorbitant fees I think you‘ll find that they‘ll face very intense competition,â€ he told ABC.
His remarks came after University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said fees might have to rise by as much as 61 per cent in some courses due to funding cuts and deregulation.
The National Tertiary Education Union has suggested fees could exceed $100,000.
However, others including Australian Technology Network executive director Vicki Thomson, have disputed claims that university degrees will cost up to $100,000, saying they would find â€œfew, if any, students willing to pay for themâ€.
A cardboard cut out of MP Christopher Pyne is set on fire and then stomped on by protesters marching against fee changes. Source: News Corp Australia
According to research done by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling for The Conversation and based on fees charged at the University of Canberra, pay-off times and total repayments would be significantly higher for science, nursing and teaching degrees, particularly for women.
Even without deregulation, if the university simply recouped the amount lost from the government‘s reduction in funding, a female science graduate would take 5.5 years longer to pay off the cost of her degree. She would be paying it off for a total 13.9 years. Her total repayments would increase by an estimated $51,500, to $95,700.
If universities increase their fees by an extra 20 per cent, the same graduate would have the debt for 16.4 years. Her repayments would nearly triple from $44,200 to $123,000. The initial debt would double from $39,700 to $79,700.
However, university degrees would probably still be worth doing, with a separate report finding that the average person receives a boost of about $1.5 million to their lifetime earnings from getting a degree.
Currently a five-year law degree at the University of Sydney costs $37,715.
Tara Wankiganayaka, president of Sydney University student board, is nearing the end of a six-year law and media degree and a recent check showed her HECS debt was around $45,000. â€œIt‘s definitely a lot of debt,â€ she said.
Tara Wankiganayaka is completing a law and media degree. Source: Supplied
She said she thought that Sydney University, like many others was suffering from a black hole in research funding and a lot of the increased revenue would probably go to filling that hole.
But she thought that deregulation would adversely impact on lower socio economic students and minorities.
â€œThe problem is that we don‘t really know what the increases will look like,â€ she said. â€œThe failure of this government is its inability to realise that education is not a privilege, it is vital to our economy and Australia‘s future ... I don‘t think you can view it in purely in a market context.â€
However, despite the perception that lower fees benefit poorer students, former PM Whitlam‘s private secretary Peter Wilenski once wrote that the abolition of university fees â€œhad no impact on the socio-economic distribution of the origins of university students, and was in effect a direct handout to the better offâ€.
DEBATE RAGES OVER REAL IMPACT
The Group of Eight supports deregulation of fees but wants three amendments to the government‘s proposals.
The group includes Melbourne University, Sydney University, Monash, UNSW, ANU, University of Queensland, University of Adelaide, and the University of Western Australia. They believe the interest rate on HECS-HELP loans should be kept at CPI rather than a capped bond rate or, should this not be sustainable for the taxpayer, that a proposed hybrid system be implemented.
The group also wants proposed cuts to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme reduced to a level less than 20 per cent, as well as a transitional support package for universities in areas with thin markets.
In a column published in August, Australian Technology Network executive director Vicki Thomson, is expected to take over next month as executive director of the Group of Eight, said a far more realistic estimate of how high fees might rise for a standard degree in a deregulated market was $12,000 to $14,000 a year.
â€œDeregulating fees will provide students with increased choice and universities with flexibility. Will fees go up? Some may, but others would also decrease as we have the freedom to determine the size of our institutions and the degrees that we offer.
Economist Bruce Chapman, who was the architect of HECS, now called the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), said the impact would vary among institutions, with some putting up prices more than others.
But he said he would be surprised if fees didn‘t at least double at â€˜prestigious‘ universities like the University of Sydney, Australian National University and Monash.
The Greens have also done modelling on the impact of the changes that shows poorer students would be hardest hit.
A graduate with a $34,000 debt and a starting salary of $75,000 would take 20 years to pay off their debt, paying $20,000 in interest.
Other modelling has revealed that women would be further impacted because they generally take a year off to have children and work part-time for at least two years after that.