Strolling in my mind through Rome’s Tivoli Gardens, musing on Chapman’s Homer I… oh look, this article is just a direct communique to Jacqui Lambie (and to the strange DLP-Trendies mix — the Centre Alliance — a bit) but the rest of you can read it if you want.

Jacqui, here’s why you should vote against Education Minister Dan Tehan’s higher-ed funding proposals, and not even do that peekaboo horse-trading, get a new playground for Ulverstone in exchange for abolishing the Health Department stuff

1. The proposals limit higher education choices for middle and low income families

Dan Tehan’s changes are presented as increasing job-ready uni places by reducing the fees for course such as nursing, clinical psychology and engineering.

But they do so by increasing fees on courses such as business, humanities and economics — to $15,000 a year — which are now required for career paths in management and admin jobs. The aim is to load people who need such degrees — many from low or middle income backgrounds — with up to $50,000 debt that will cross-subsidise national development.

This uses average workers’ career advancement as a cash cow for something the government should be paying for.

2. The scheme makes low- and middle-income families pay for upper-income education

Engineering, veterinary science and dentistry are all to have their student fees reduced to $4000 a year (well below cost), while the other courses rise to $15,000 a year. Medical and engineering courses remain dominated by elite private school graduates, and changing that will only happen through reform of secondary education and university entry procedures, not through fee changes.

In the current setup, the new fee structure will mean low-middle income tertiary students will be subsidising the education of the upper-middle class.

3. The scheme makes people pay more for courses that will earn them less when they get out

The existing funding model matches fees to both the income graduates can expect in the workforce, and cost of teaching (higher for engineering than for arts or business for example).

The new proposals reverse that, which means graduates on lower incomes paying off fifty thousand dollars of student debt will be cross-subsidising the lack of student debt of highly-paid professionals. It’s staggeringly unfair.

4. The scheme makes mature-age entry students subsidise school-leaver elite professional students

Very few mature-age students enter dentistry, vet science or engineering. Many study arts, business or law, both for professional advancement or to expand their mind.

The new fee structure will make that impossible for many, especially those with families and mortgages, because it will load them up with debt. Those who do do it will be cross-subsidising 18-year-old students who are entering courses leading to high-paid professions.

5. The new proposal restricts the chance of study for its own sake to those on higher incomes

Because the arts and humanities will be charged at (mostly) $50,000 for a three-year course, the opportunity to study for its own sake, to pursue curiosity, to learn about our history and culture, will once again be much easier for those from high-income, high-asset families, who can pay the fees up front for their children (or themselves, as mature students). 

6. The proposals are an assault on the arts and humanities, which is how our culture is transmitted

The Coalition says that universities are just an anarchist commune of woke statue destroyers. Yeah, well, ok, there’s a few of those.

But most of the humanities consists of people who have devoted their lives to teaching and researching the literature, art and thought of Western civilisation. In the new proposals, it will cost a student $3000 dollars a year to study gum flossing (dentistry) swampland (environmental science) or Mandarin (languages) but $15,000 a year to study ancient Greece and Rome, the art of the Renaissance, or the history of Britain and Australia. That’s an assault on what makes us who we are, and our greatest achievements.

7. The proposal is poorly designed, not based on sound research, and won’t achieve even the positive stuff it wants to do

The proposal’s claim that fee discounting will persuade students to choose courses with more post-graduate job opportunities is not backed up by evidence, which shows that the relatively low discounts on offer don’t make a difference, and students decide courses in terms of interests and aptitude, separate to fee cost.

The proposal will simply make overall access to higher education more unequal than it currently is.

8. The proposal distorts post-graduation employment data to get the result it wants

By judging job readiness as direct transfer from field of study to the same field of work, the proposal wilfully ignores the employment market demand for “generalists”, people who have learnt multiple skills of learning, research and adaptation by doing humanities or basic science courses.

Employer groups have repeatedly said that they favour generalist graduates who are capable of being flexible and adaptive in the fast-changing modern workplace.

Why is this being ignored? Because the Morrison government wants to wage a culture war against humanities departments, and it is willing to ignore good evidence of their importance to Australian economy and society in order to do so.

9. Because of the hypocrisy

The Morrison government is filled with ex-student politicians — including Dan Tehan — who went to elite private schools, gained law and humanities degrees when they were free or very cheap, and who used those degrees to gain political power.

They now want to deny low and middle-income people access to the sort of degrees that would make it easier for them to get access to politics. It’s a way of restricting political power to the upper-middle class.

For all these reasons, and…

10. Because Education Minister Dan Tehan is a tool

 …you should reject the proposals out of hand.

Peter Fray

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