“You couldn’t kill me with an axe,” said former Education Minister Christopher Pyne in May last year, when his controversial Education Reforms package failed to make it to the end line passed an unconvinced Senate. “I’m going to keep coming back.”
Attempted axe murderings aside, Pyne is indeed back, appearing today in the resurrected form of his Turnbull-appointee replacement Senator Simon Birmingham. For it seems that deregulation – the 2014 budget boogie-man that we thought had slunk back into the realm of badly-written horror stories, clutching to its side a $100,00 degree as it did – has today been confirmed as a live option for part of the government’s plans for next year.
Ultimately, this could spell a 20% cut to the university sector. Ouch. This floats scummily alongside the potential 10% increase graduates may have to pay to HECS (translating into a 25% increase to student fees), and a significant lowering of the repayment threshold for the debt. Looks like it’s the box-house rent life for me.
In contrast, Labor has boasted that it has committed to finding (in a handy pot of gold) $12 billion to invest into universities. The quality and fairness of student education is once again made a political football for the election season game.
The Coalition’s bad odour dropped today in a speech given by Senator Birmingham at a Universities Australia’s conference, and comes on the eve of the National Day of Action – an annual protest organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) aimed to give voice to student concerns over the current and forecast state of Higher Education. New rhymes for rallying cries are reported to be in draft status now.
In a direct statement, UWA Education Council President Emma Boogaerdt says she finds it “abhorrent that they are continuing to push a policy which is hated by the overwhelming majority of the population, and which most experts think won’t work.” She notes that “even the Higher Education Editor of the conservative newspaper The Australian doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”
It has been just a few months that media reports relayed that – due to an obstructionist Senate and the need for “funding certainty” in 2016 – the same Senator had “confirmed the Turnbull Government will be shelving the controversial university deregulation plan in this term of government”.
“We only ever said that we were deferring implementation of those reforms by 12 months,” the Senator chuckled and smirked and waggled his finger, in my mind at least.
Those opposed to deregulation – their voices hoarse and cracked in throats raw from repetition – assert that implementation of the scheme would just result in a malformed Australian replica of the American corporate university. They predict student fees to bloat horribly, and the disabling of fair, equitable and affordable entry pathways to all students, no matter how many soirees their parents weekly attend.
Last year – the year where the Australian police state was tested – the deregulation debate saw its abysmal peak in February when students were pepper-sprayed during a Christopher Pyne speech protest in Sydney.
Birmingham has up until now used the language of cooperation, and so been something of a darling to peak university bodies and Higher Education stakeholders. “There’s no point just talking about reform,” he earlier reasoned. “There’s no point trying to ram it through. You’ve got to build the consensus in the community that allows you to have the consensus in the parliament.”
Let us hope that the promised consultation will be more meaningful than that of the UWA Renewal Project.
Words by ‘The Curmudgeon’ Kate Prendergast
The NDA protest will take place tomorrow at 1pm in Forrest Chase, with a ‘sausages are essential pre-ingredient for rallies’ BBQ held at 12pm on Oak Lawn as organised by the UWA Education Action Network. The UWA student event page for the NDA protest tomorrow can be found here.