Politics

Strap In, Uni Students And Graduates Are Being Targeted By The Federal Government Again

Everything you need to know about the latest plans to cut uni funding and increase student fees.

If you’re a current or prospective university student, a uni staff member or a graduate still paying off their debt, then I apologise in advance for this story. In fact, even if you only tangentially care about higher education, maybe because you like the idea of a country that trains nurses and teachers, I’ve got bad news. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

According a number of reports over the past couple of days the federal government is getting ready to announce the biggest changes to university funding since 2014, when the proposal to deregulate student fees was first floated.

The new plans reportedly include cuts to university funding, an increase in student fees and changing the way debt repayments work to force graduates to pay back their loans faster. But before we unpack all the gritty details it’s worth taking a quick look at the messy history of higher education policy over the past few years.

What Happened To Fee Deregulation?

In 2014 the Abbott government announced massive changes to university funding. More than $1 billion in funding would be cut and the cap on fees would be lifted, meaning universities could charge whatever they liked.

Students heavily protested this, and the changes never secured enough political support to pass parliament. They did, however, remain official government policy until last year.

In the 2016 budget the government dropped fee deregulation, but maintained its policy of cutting university funding. The Coalition refused to release a specific higher education policy during last year’s election campaign and has stayed pretty quiet on that front until now.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham, is set to release more details about the government’s new policy tonight, but most of the plans have already been leaked to the media.

Get Ready To Pay More For Less

There are three components to the proposed changes. The first is an overall funding cut to universities of about 3 percent. That equates to $900 million over four years. If universities respond by cutting courses and sacking staff, that will have an impact on education quality.

The second change is an increase to student fees. We don’t know exactly how much yet, but some reports have indicated “It won’t be as high as 25 percent”. Thanks guys, that’s really helpful.

To give an indication of what a 20 percent fee hike could look like, for example, the average cost of a three-year arts degree would go up from $20,000 to $24,000. A five-year engineering degree would increase from $49,000 to $58,800. That’s an increase of $9,800.

The final change is all about HECS debt repayment. At the moment, graduates with a student debt don’t start paying it off until they earn over $52,000 a year. The government intends on dropping that repayment threshold. Again, we don’t know the exact details but The Australian has estimated that if the threshold was dropped to $40,000, an additional 180,000 graduates would be forced to repay.

The important thing to note here is that any chance to HECS repayments doesn’t just impact current and future students, it will change things for everyone with a current HECS debt.

When Will This Happen?

The education minister is going to announce more details in a speech tonight, and we’ll get all the gory numbers in next Tuesday’s federal budget. But these changes still need to be passed by parliament and there’s no guarantee that will happen.

If students and university staff mount another big campaign against these proposals, there’s a strong chance they might never actually be implemented.

Stay tuned because we’ll be doing more analysis on this higher education shake-up as further details are revealed.

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s News and Politics Editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @oz_f.