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Speech: Higher Education Support Costs & Charges Bills 2019

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 15 Oct 2019

I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak to the Higher Education Support (Charges) Bill 2019 and the Higher Education Support Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2019. I'll be clear from the outset: the Greens do not support these bills. These bills impose yet another levy on the higher education sector, which is already under pressure from round after round of funding cuts. The Greens are deeply concerned about the ongoing cuts to higher education. The proposed bills represent a worrying continuation of this government's larger pattern of defunding the higher education sector and shifting the costs of providing higher education away from the Commonwealth. These proposed charges must be considered within this context of underfunding and defunding of education. When the Liberal-National government froze Commonwealth funding for teaching and training, they effectively cut trillions of dollars of funding from the higher education sector.

The bills propose to shift the cost of administering HELP loans to higher education providers, who are already struggling under massive cuts to their budgets by the Liberal-National government. Some TAFEs will also be slugged with this needless tax at a time when they're already being destroyed by this government's neglect, lack of funding and a push to privatise.

This is part of an ongoing pattern of the Commonwealth shrinking and shirking its responsibility to fund the delivery and administration of higher education, which is actually our responsibility. Shifting costs of administering students loans to higher education providers is not only wrong in principle; it also further burdens the sector, which is already in strife on many fronts. It is our collective responsibility to fight back against every bit of funding taken away from higher education and to build a movement for meaningful funding increases that bring with them secure and permanent ongoing employment for university staff.

Several submissions to the inquiry into these bills highlighted that these charges will mean that higher education providers will be forced to divert resources away from teaching and learning, essential activities such as supporting equity outcomes and overall provision of a quality education for students. For too long, both—and I say both—Labor and Liberal governments have treated education as a piggy bank from which money can be drawn at whim. Every time you need to fill up government coffers, you attack universities and students. This is death by a thousand cuts, and it is shameful for Labor to side with this government today, which has cut millions of dollars from the higher education sector. Labor is hiding behind the Liberals, offering no opposition to these terrible bills. They claim to be a party that cares about higher education, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof will be in Hansard when Labor votes with the government to impose yet another levy, another tax on higher education providers. Just last week there was a Guardian headline, 'Labor must help coalition pass legislation even if it disappoints' with a big picture of Labor deputy leader Richard Marles. No! Labor, you need to join us in opposing this government, which destroys everything it touches.

Evidence provided by the majority of stakeholders to these two bills when the inquiry was held in the last parliament showed clearly the concerns that higher education providers have over yet another levy. Universities rightly pointed out in their submissions to the inquiry that higher education providers and student bodies already share the cost of administering the HELP scheme by providing a range of administrative and student services in order to ensure that HELP funding is administered property.

This legislation is also an attack on students. The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations stated in its submission:

Inevitably, cuts impact the delivery of teaching and research, the core functions of universities in Australia. Funding cuts will be passed onto undergraduate and postgraduate students, whether they are built into tuition costs for full fee-paying students, result in increased student to academic staff ratios, or lead higher education providers to otherwise reduce the "cost of delivery" of education.

The fact that the Liberals have revived these bills in the new parliament is a clear signal of the dangerous lack of vision for the future of our young people, for the future of our society. At a time when we should be looking to transform our higher education system, we have the Liberal-National coalition government decimating the higher education sector.

I've been involved in higher education for most of my adult life, and I'm still a proud card-carrying member of the NTEU. When I moved to Australia from Pakistan, now almost 27 years ago, the University of New South Wales was actually my first home, where I did my master's, where I taught environmental protection and sustainability and where I completed my PhD. I spent 14 years at UNSW, either as a student or as an academic. I have seen the sector dramatically change for the worse. I've seen universities forced to become businesses, where access to the privilege of education is being sold at a higher and higher price. The courses, the reputation, the buildings and the plush jobs are now all part and parcel of this rampant marketisation. First, funding has been structured to incentivise universities to adopt the methods and cultures of corporate institutions, replacing formerly collegial and democratic academic governance. If the Liberals have their way, universities will be funded only to the extent they are able to contribute to the profit-driven economy—as businesses, not as places for building the capacity for challenge, for critique, for invention and for intellectual growth, which is really what universities are all about.

It is our collective responsibility to fight back against every bit of funding taken away from higher education and push for increases that change universities to what they actually should be. We should be looking at how we can guarantee lifelong learning for everyone who wants to be in TAFE, training, education—whatever our community and our young people want. In these changing times, removing the burden of ever-increasing debt is the only way to transform our society into what we want it to be. This means free higher education—TAFE and university. It means increasing funding per student so staff can provide the best learning and teaching environment, it means supporting students by increasing youth allowance and it means providing job security to academics, researchers and staff.

Yet here we are extracting much-needed funds out of universities and doing it at a time of uncertainty, when the nature of work is changing. The future of many jobs is precarious at best. These are times when we should be looking at inspiring and creative solutions to the massive challenges of the climate crisis and inequality. These are times when we need to make it easier for our researchers to advise on the radical changes we need for a hopeful future. But we have the Liberals here, who are imposing yet another levy on higher education. The Greens will be opposing this shameful and backward move.


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