Those cuts to university funding which were so controversial only a week ago have just passed in the Senate today, meaning some degrees are about to get a whole lot more expensive.
Everyone from Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi to independent (and often problematic) crossbencher Jacqui Lambie publicly eviscerated the legislation for making it way harder for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study what they want.
“This bill is cruel. This bill is punitive. This bill is an irredeemable mess,” Faruqi said in parliament.
“This bill is shit.”
The Job-Ready Graduates bill is pushing the government’s idea of what it means to be “job-ready”.
In this case, it’s redirecting funding from courses like arts and law to create around 39,000 more affordable spots in courses like teaching, nursing, maths, science and engineering.
Of course, none of these degrees are more worthy than another, but the government’s funding plan means that some courses will simply be out of reach for a lot of students.
For example, the price of doing an arts degree could more than double to $14,500 per year. That’s a fee hike of up to 113%.
On top of that, uni funding is being cut across the board, with the government set to pay a share of 52%, down from 58%. That means educators will have to do more with less.
Another aspect of the legislation is that any local students who fail more than half of their first-year classes will lose government funding altogether, meaning they’ll have to pay the same exorbitant uni fees international students currently pay in Australia.
These changes will impact already disadvantaged students the most. Students from poor families and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students already have barries to studing the courses they want.
Meanwhile, working students, part-time students and remote students will be disproportionately affected by the consequences of failing classes in their first year of uni.
One Nation and the Centre Alliance – two minor parties that had the deciding votes in parliament – both claimed to have extracted concessions from the government to make the policy a bit less shit. However they don’t go far enough at all.
The concession secured by One Nation is that students who pay their uni fees upfront can get a 10% fee reduction, something which Lambie slammed as “sweetheart little discounts” which only help students from rich backgrounds who didn’t have barriers to begin with.
It wasn't like I chose not to go to uni. I don't remember ever making that choice. Growing up like I did, where I did, you didn't see it as an option.
Uni was for other people. Other people who don't live in public housing, with dads who don't drive trucks. pic.twitter.com/W4soKOJ1sy
— Jacqui Lambie (@JacquiLambie) October 7, 2020
More recently, the Centre Alliance backed the bill on the condition that students with exceptional circumstances won’t lose government funding if they fail too many classes. That does little to soften the blow.
More spots will also be allocated to South Australia, because that’s where Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff (and the whole party, more or less) is from.
Lambie said every individual vote for or against the bill was a statement about the future for Aussie students.
“I refuse to be the vote that tells poor kids out there: no matter gifted, no matter how determined you are, ‘dream a little cheaper’,” Lambie later said in parliament.
“I won’t take that off them.”
In a message to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Lambie also said that despite the bill passing, it was more important than ever to study hard and “beat [the Liberals] at their own game.”
“If the tools it takes to win are only available to the well-off, they’ll keep winning and we’ll keep losing, and the divide between the rich and the poor will keep getting greater,” she said.
This government doesn't even have the decency to allow debate on the uni funding cuts that will affect all future generations!
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) October 8, 2020
Countless Aussie politicians who backed the bill – including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – went to uni for free.
It’s rough enough that students nowadays leave uni with the burden of a massive HECS debt. Legislating to make that debt even bigger, and to force students into courses they might not want to do is extreme hypocrisy.
This policy, like much of the Liberal Party’s education policy over the past few years, seems to be a case of ‘fuck you, got mine’.Image: Getty Images / Loop Images