It’s Now Or Never To Stop The Liberals’ Monstrous University Fee Hikes

The Liberals are just a few votes away from screwing a generation of students.

The Greens just unveiled a major plan to make university free again.

Since Tony Abbott became prime minister, the Liberals have been trying to cut university funding and hike student fees. The Greens have fought for seven years and held them off at every turn.

Now, under the cover of the pandemic, the Liberals are having another crack. Scott Morrison and Dan Tehan, the education minister, are attempting to push through the biggest changes to university funding and fees in a generation. And they are very bad.

Instead of moving towards the well-funded and fee-free university system we should have — and could easily pay for instead of subsidising fossil-fuels or bringing forward tax cuts for the wealthy — the government is going to make it harder to go to uni.

Back in June (remember June?) the Liberals announced they would overhaul university funding in Australia by raising fees by more than double for courses like arts, and cutting billions in government contributions, apparently to create new student places at uni in the process.

Over the last few months, we have done our best to unpick their spin and expose the nasty truth of these proposed reforms.

Students will face decades of debt under the changes. A student doing humanities could graduate in their early 20s, work full-time non-stop from the moment they graduate and still be paying off debt well into their 40s.

Women will bear the brunt of the fee hikes as they make up more than two-thirds of the students in the courses with the biggest fee increases. Fee hikes will also disproportionately harm First Nations students who are strongly represented in those courses.

The new uni places the government spruiks probably won’t actually appear, will be funded by higher fees and lower government contributions, and won’t nearly meet the demand for university education during the Covid recession. That means a stack of high school students will survive the HSC only to miss out on a place at uni.

A sneaky late addition to the package would punish struggling students by kicking them off Commonwealth subsidies if they fail half their first-year subjects. (We found out the policy rationale was based on dodgy data.)

Now, months and a government-rigged Senate inquiry later, prominent policy experts like head of the Grattan Institute are calling it “one of the worst-designed policies that I have ever seen”.

Worst of all is the Liberals’ hypocrisy. Scott Morrison’s government is chock full of MPs who went to university for free. At least 16 of them, including the PM himself. These hypocrites are now trying to make it harder for young people to get an education and make the best possible start they can in adult life.

This bill is so toxic I made a TikTok account to film myself setting it on fire.

The grim reality is that, despite near-universal criticism and hard scrutiny, the Liberals have never been closer to securing what they’ve wanted for seven years: a large-scale defunding of our higher education system.

The bill is likely to be debated in the Senate next week and it’s going to come down to the wire. The Libs have reportedly stitched up a deal with Pauline Hanson, so with Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie now opposing the bill, there will be just a single vote in it. If we can convince Centre Alliance to vote no, the legislation is toast.

That means that everyone who cares about uni students and universities themselves should get on the blower to Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie and Senator Stirling Griff right now. Their contact details are below.

Rebekha Sharkie MP | (08) 8398 5566 | [email protected]
Senator Stirling Griff | (08) 8212 1409 | [email protected]

Mehreen Faruqi is the Greens’ Federal Senator for New South Wales and the party’s spokesperson on education. Follow her on Twitter @MehreenFaruqi.