Educating the masses

Crikey readers talk MPs' free ride at uni and whether the Customs Department should start wearing eye patches.

Who should get a free education? Professor Douglas Kirsner writes: Re. "A floral tribute to the federal MPs who got a free ride at uni" (Friday). Asserting there’s hypocrisy involved in cabinet ministers who benefited from Whitlam’s "free education" increasing  the requirement of current students to pay back increased fees is a cheap shot and comparing apples with oranges. As always, a historical perspective is important. The massive cost of mass education cannot be compared with the relatively low cost of educating the few. Whitlam’s "free education" was free only for the small elite who could make it to universities. The "free education" for the lucky few cost the budget a relatively small amount. It was Labor’s John Dawkins who revolutionised higher education in Australia in 1987 by moving to mass higher education, which, of course, costs enormously more money. To help finance this Neville Wran innovated the idea of HECS, where students after graduation having reached a given earning capacity would start paying back a proportion of the costs of their education. Governments since have increased the number of places at universities and deregulated them. The current government has extended this further by introducing the ability for non-university tertiary students studying for diplomas to borrow for their studies. Surely this is a commendable massive extensive of opportunity to everyone that is punishing no one. "Free fees for all the student" is a great socialist utopian battle cry that was only achieved when there were only a few students. Colin Smith writes: Why are people who are training to be athletes or military officers considered to require and deserve a free tertiary education with a generous living allowance, while people training to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, economists, teachers, nurses, librarians, physiotherapists, dentists, social workers and scientists are not? Avast, me hearties! Bryan Bilham writes: Re. "What goes on water stays on water" (Thursday). I am responding to Greg Poropat's letter. Poropat writes:
One question that I don't think has been asked of the government is if Customs/Border Patrol/naval personnel confiscate (steal) mobile phones, GPS devices etc from asylum seekers and, if they do:
  • Under what legal authority they do so; and
  • What happens to the confiscated (stolen) materials.
If this does happen, is it piracy? The International Maritime Bureau defines piracy as: the act of boarding any vessel with an intent to commit theft or any other crime, and with an intent or capacity to use force in furtherance of that act.  "
Poropat's reference to piracy is a serious one, and deserves more substantiation  than quoting a very simplistic definition attributed to the International Maritime Bureau. His paragraph seems to take no consideration of the fact that it is the United Nations thar issues the governing legislation involving piracy. Perhaps Poropat should look at the originating UN definitions of "piracy" and "armed robbery" in this context. They are not simple and involve many factors, such as territorial waters and the ownership and operation of the potentially offending pirate vessel. I assure you that my aim is purely to see more informative and less simplistic reporting in what appears to be a veiled accusation. I have no political motivation. Some comment, however brief, would be much appreciated.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

5 thoughts on “Educating the masses

  1. Ian Neering

    Doug Kirsner reckons it’s a cheap shot to accuse govt members of hypocrisy over their free education. Maybe he’s right. Not because of the undocumented cost differences he attempts to cite but simply because of the fact that their free tertiary education was an accident of timing. Not their fault.

    He advocates a historical perspective and cites the “revolutionary” actions of John Dawkins in moving to mass higher education.

    Sorry Doug, I think you need to re-read that history. In amalgamating the Colleges of Advanced Education into the university system he sowed the seeds of our current problems with regard to our current shortage of skill sets, debased the educational standards of degrees conferred by our universities and reduced the scope of our universities as centers of academic excellence in favour of vocational training center.

  2. klewso

    They want to deprive others of the advantage they had.

  3. Jaybuoy

    it’s amazing how cruel people will be if the pretext is drownings at sea…

  4. Guy Rundle

    Doug Kirsner is consistent in at least one way. He virulently criticises the Whitlam government here, just as he did in the 1970s. One small difference – in the 1970s, he was criticised Whitlam from the left, berating it for not introducing full socialism, and assailing the education system as a tool of indoctrination by the capitalist state. It’s an education!

  5. CML

    @ Professor Kirsner – If free education is not ‘doable’ in a wealthy country like ours, how come the Scandinavian and other European countries can manage to do it?
    Oh! of course, everyone pays their fair share of taxation in those countries, unlike what the rich get away with in Oz!
    I think you are looking to further disadvantage the wrong end of society, Professor!!

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details