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Memo to students: you should be angry

By Kellie Tranter - posted Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Dear university students, your current Education Minister talks a lot but the Euro-centric jingoistic education system he spruiks brings to mind Robin Boyd's Diggerdom, where all men [and women] are of equal mental mediocrity.

Antonio Gramsci, known for his theory of cultural hegemony, stressed that 'a ruling class could not rule by violence, force or oppression alone, at least not for long: it must understand what we call today "soft power" and aim for cultural takeover...This cannot be achieved overnight and requires that the potential class rulers undertake the long march through the institutions.'

The process has been happening over the last 25 years and the pace is only likely to accelerate under the Abbott Government.


With the National Curriculum the first item for review on the educational agenda, it's for the restless intellectuals among you to determine what the Government wants you to learn and why, and who is the ultimate beneficiary.

It was interesting that the new president of the National Union of Students', Deanna Taylor, said the Union will look at income support, privatisation of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debt and higher education quality this year. She indicated that key lobby targets include Clive Palmer because of his electoral promise for the abolition of all tertiary fees. (Then again he also promised to bring back the long lunch!)

It's sensible for the National Union of Students' to target any person or party that may hold the balance of power but isn't it also time for the Union and students to question the status quo and review the economic ideology underpinning HECS?

Forty-two years ago the Whitlam Labor government abolished fees at universities and colleges of advanced education because "education should be free".

Fifteen years later, in 'Higher Education a policy discussion paper' published in December 1987, the Hawke Labor Government shifted its position, probably as a result of a neo-liberal ideological push from the US and within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The issues of concern could have been written yesterday: problems associated with the traditional export base, the sharp fall in world prices for traditional exports, an adverse shift in the terms of trade requiring a change in the balance of the Australian economy away from traditional industries and towards the less familiar, such as advanced manufacturing and new service industries.


The discussion paper went on to note that 'significant barriers existed to the full participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education, that individuals from families with relatively low income levels draw less on the benefits of higher education than others and that groups such as Aboriginals face distinct advantages in terms of access'.

With the goal of expanding and reforming of the higher education system the Hawke Government was looking for contributions from individual students, former students and/or their parents. It set up the Wran Committee with the following terms of reference:

1. The Government is committed to expanding the capacity and effectiveness of the higher education sector and to improving access to higher education for groups that are currently under-represented. This goal has significant funding implications...Given current and likely future budgetary circumstances, the Government believes that it is necessary to consider sources of funding involving the direct beneficiaries of higher education.

2. The Committee should develop options and make recommendations for possible schemes of funding which could involve contributions from higher education students, graduates, their parents and employers. In developing options the Committee should have regard to the social and educational consequences of the schemes under examination.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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