The defeat of the Abbott Government’s second attempt to de-regulate higher education fees (17/3) has been met with the challenging need to reassess our nation’s educational and political landscape policies.
Throughout the entire fiasco it was made apparent that at the core, the measures of the package were about ideology and not budget savings. They were about strengthening competition and private markets in higher education, supporting the minority and not the majority.
Quality research and education should be at the heart of tertiary education and our education system, as well as equitable access. Young people and Australian students need effective representation, and while this defeat is positive for us, it still poses the ongoing issue of growing uncertainty in the higher education system.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said the current funding system for universities was unsustainable but called for a comprehensive review of the sector before considering fee deregulation.
“There has been a lack of preparation and consultation before such a fundamental change to Australia’s higher education policy,” Senator Xenophon said.
“This is the biggest, most radical change Australia has seen in higher education.
“Right now, what we have is a mess. What has happened to date has been less than satisfactory.”
Senator Lambie said all Australian should be able to complete their first university degree for free and called on both Labor and the Coalition to commit to spend one per cent of gross domestic product on higher education.
Senator Madigan warned his fellow senators against succumbing to populism and urged them to seek to improve the government’s bill rather than vote it down.
“I have serious concerns with the bill in its current form, but I also fear the consequences of doing nothing,” he said.
The Australian public has become more aware of the importance of universities and access to affordable education these past few months than it has in the past few years, meaning that any way forward or any act on improvement of the current education policy should concern the public’s opinion and voice.
To a majority of voters, access to university now seems a crucial road to economic advancement.
Another interesting positive from this defeat has been the continued two-sided debate surrounding educational reform. This means that there is a problem, and that the Australian government and public should take note.
Australia needs a sensible debate on higher education financing based on evidence and careful analysis, and following this current debate we now have free room to have this take place.
We must be a nation that supports learning and one which adapts a better university system with the focus on accessibility, affordability and advancement.
In the end, our certainty in the future of higher education, funding, and fee policy rests on three questions as outlined in the 2013 report “Tertiary Education Policy in Australia“, published by Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education:
How does the nation construct and finance what we Australians call ‘a fair go’ for each new generation? What role does our society want the university sector to play as a nation-builder, beyond meeting market demand for expertise? And what fiscal realities do governments face, as they fund competing societal demands for public investment?