Newcastle University students welcome delays to higher education reforms
Newcastle University Students Association president Clare Swan.THE Newcastle University Students Association has welcomed reports the Abbott government is offering to ditch or delay controversial elements of its sweeping higher education reforms, but say the concessions don’t go far enough.
Association president Clare Swan welcomed reports on Friday the government appeared to be ‘‘backtracking’’ after announcing in its May budget the most radical reforms to higher education policy in 25 years, including deregulating university fees, applying a real interest rate to student debts for the first time and cutting university course funding by 20 per cent.
‘‘On one hand they want us to go to university and improve our education, but on the other hand we’re being punished for it,’’ Ms Swan said.
Fairfax Media reported yesterday the government was willing to concede on parts of the package to secure a deal with Senate cross benchers to support fee deregulation, ahead of a Senate debate on the government’s higher education bills next week.
This could include reducing the 20 per cent course funding cut to 12 to 15 per cent.
Universities had opposed the 20 per cent chop, saying they would have to increase their fees by 20 per cent to maintain current resourcing levels.
‘‘If fees go up some students won’t be able to afford university,’’ Ms Swan said.
‘‘We graduate the highest number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students in the country, 26 per cent of our students come from a low socio economic background and we have a huge number of mature age students studying for a second chance – what’s going to happen to them?’’
Fairfax Media also reported the government was willing to abandon its unpopular plan to peg student debt to the 10-year government bond rate instead of inflation.
Combined with a plan for students to start repaying loans at a lower income threshold, the move had been expected to hit women and poor graduates the hardest.
‘‘The government tell us that if we go to university we’re going to get higher incomes, so we undertake debt hoping there’s going to be some compensation – but the truth is a lot of jobs don’t offer that.’’
Ms Swan said one third of all graduates enter the workforce in positions that don’t require a degree, meaning those saddled with any student debt begin their careers at a disadvantage compared to their colleagues.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Christopher Pyne told Fairfax Media: ‘‘The government is continuing to discuss the higher education reforms with the cross bench Senators and as the Minister has previously stated 80 per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing.’’
Ms Swan said students were planning a forum to discuss deregulation in November.