Australia’s Higher Education System Is Really, Really Broken, According To A New Report

Don't worry, Malcolm Turnbull will fix it!

hecs debt

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Over the past year the evidence that young people in Australia are getting a raw deal has been steadily piling up. Housing affordability, high youth unemployment and lower wages are just some of the measures of how we’re being shafted.

This week a new report released by the Productivity Commission, an independent agency funded by the federal government to conduct research looking at economic and social issues, has poured even more fuel onto the bonfire of millennial dreams and hopes. The report is called “Shifting the Dial” and it looks a range of public services in Australia, but its numbers around higher education are the most depressing.

The Productivity Commission acknowledged the important role universities play in society, but they also pointed out that the way they are funded and operated is leading to less than ideal outcomes for students. Which probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone with recent experience studying or teaching at an Australian uni.

In particular the Commission pointed out that the focus placed on research is leading to a situation where “teaching plays second fiddle… with consequences for student satisfaction, teaching quality, and graduate outcomes”. One potential solution proposed in the report is to expand consumer protection law to cover universities, giving students the right to demand restitution if teaching quality isn’t up to scratch.

It’s A Shit Time To Be A Graduate

The report also looked at employment outcomes for graduates, and this is where things get really depressing. To give you a taste, there’s an entire chapter titled simply “Student outcomes are often poor”.

Only 70 percent of graduates are employed in full-time work. That’s the lowest level since records began in 1982, and we’ve been on a steady decrease for the past decade. Also, nearly one-third of the graduates who are employed are working in jobs that don’t require their degree.

But wait, there’s even more! Graduate starting salaries have been declining when compared to average earnings, which means degrees are becoming less valuable at the same time the cost of study is increasing.

So, what does this all mean? Basically, students are paying more to get a lower quality education, they’re finding it harder and harder to get jobs, and even if they do luck out they’re earning less than previous graduate cohorts. Shit is not good, folks.

At Least Our Government Is Onto It… Oh Wait

Thankfully the government has a great plan to fix all this! They want to cut funding to universities, increase student fees and force students to pay their debt back faster.

The Productivity Commission has criticised the government’s plans, saying they would be “unlikely to address many long-term structural challenges”. And although Senate has so far blocked the government’s policies from becoming law, it’s pretty bloody dodgy that Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda for higher education is to make things worse and push the burden further onto young people.

The report also pointed out how successive governments had mismanaged Australia’s vocational education system, resulting in cost blowouts and poor education outcomes. According to the Productivity Commission “The VET sector has been beset with a raft of problems leading to a sector characterised by rapidly rising student debt, high student non‑completion rates, poor labour market outcomes for some students, unscrupulous and fraudulent behaviour on the part of some training providers.”

Basically the report proves it doesn’t matter whether you’re studying at universe or at a training college like TAFE, the situation is not great, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be getting better any time.

But hey, maybe we should all eat less smashed avo or something, like the boomers keep telling us.