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Fee deregulation still a hot topic

Edith Cowan University in Joondalup.

Edith Cowan University in Joondalup.

Rebekah Mathieson, Staff Reporter

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Education reforms are back in the Senate as the debate continues surrounding the deregulation of university fees.

The government is proposing fee deregulation along with funding cuts to higher education and are waiting for the policy to be passed.

Many vice chancellors around the country have showed their support for deregulation but Dr Ben Etherington, key member of the National Alliance for Public Universities (NAPU), says that they might not have any other choice.

“No one wants to be in the position of the modern vice chancellor,” he said.

“The truth is they’re in a position that is beholden to corporate self-interest, when the government minister is holding them over the barrel threatening to massively cut their budgets and they have no other means to make up the funding hole other than deregulation.

“It’s very hard for them to come out and publicly oppose the bill.”

NAPU was set up by academics from universities in Sydney in Melbourne as a way for university staff to voice their opinions on the matter of education reforms and to voice their concerns in the national forum.

Dr Etherington says that the organisation was founded in order to give Australian academics a collective voice.

“With the reforms going before the senate today we have been really frustrated that the views of vice chancellors have dominated the public discussion about universities on behalf of universities and we know that staff across the country are pretty much all opposed to this, some virulently so,” he said.

“We are a group of staff from four different universities and how we set it up was to write a charter outlining an alternative vision of universities as public institutions that don’t just serve individual benefits but have crucial public roles.

“The idea is that the signatories that come on board – we’re already got over 500 in the last couple of days – the signatories are signing up to this kind of vision of universities.

“They are not signing a petition saying ‘don’t deregulate’ they’re signing a charter that says we believe that university is a public institution, they serve the public good, they’re a vital institution for our society, they make economic sense but more importantly they create a society based around values of rational debate, principles of reason, and serving public good in a way that’s not reducible to profit.”

Clive Palmer has also spoken out against the changes to higher education, dredging up the memory of a young Joe Hockey protesting against university fees, telling ABC radio that he will not be supporting the  reforms.

“I’ve been very impressed by the arguments of Joe Hockey on YouTube where he said we should have free university fees – he’s won me over so we’ll have to vote against it,” he said.

The footage he described was broadcast in 1987 and shows the Treasurer at a protest to promote the idea of free education to the public.

 

 

While Dr Etherington says that while this vision of Mr Hockey is amusing, neither he nor those in positions of power who are in support of these reforms should be judged too harshly.

“I don’t think there’s any point blaming someone like Joe Hockey or blaming any of the individual vice chancellors,” he said.

“They’re basically cyphers for the institutional positions that they hold and it’s up to us as academics to assert what it is that we believe the institutions are that we’re a part of and to ensure that the Australian public know about all the benefits you get from universities as a public institution.”

The government has also said that with deregulation will come more scholarships but Dr Etherington believes this to be a way they are covering their bases.

“The scholarship proposal is obviously a sham,” he said.

“You don’t produce equity by having an inequitable system and then creating mechanisms in order to balance that inequitable system.

“The students that have no familiarity with university education don’t necessarily know what to expect, they’re not really the kind of students who are going to be winning scholarships.

“A scholarship for the talented few that might cotton on to the idea of going to university isn’t what equity is about, it’s about increasing access for the broad range of Australians that can benefit from a higher education.”

To find out more about the NAPU charter, or if you are a university staff member interested in adding your name to their list of signatories, visit their website to show your support.

The Senate is still debating the issue but it looks as though the Abbott government has a long way to go before the legislation is passed.

 

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About the Writer
Rebekah Mathieson, Staff Reporter

Rebekah Mathieson is a journalism and history student at ECU with a keen interest in the cultural and social side to the media. She has aspirations to...

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Fee deregulation still a hot topic