True reform in higher education means increasing public investment in our universities to support world-class teaching and research, ensuring there is real growth in the number of student places and giving all Australians the opportunity to go to university on the basis of ability, regardless of where they come from or how wealthy they are.
On any of these measures, the changes unveiled by the Howard government for Australian universities fall far short of the mark.
The Howard government's higher-education changes don't constitute an agenda for reform. They will simply create a university system where money is more important than marks and $100,000 degrees are more and more common.
Reform is not increasing fees by up to 30 per cent and hitting students and families with HECS debts of $50,000 or more.
Reform is not ignoring the plight of 20,000 Australians who missed out on a university place this year, despite having the marks. Under its plans the Howard
government will create just 2116 new places for commencing students by 2007. This isn't even enough to satisfy unmet demand in New South Wales, let alone the whole
country. What hope has Australia got to stay internationally competitive when, at the start of the 21st century, the proportion of people getting into university
is declining, not increasing?
Competition for the limited number of publicly-funded places is set to become even more fierce and the number of young people who miss out greater. Instead
of investing in more places the Howard government is saying to those locked out of university that they will have to buy their way in. Universities will be allowed to have half of all places filled by those willing and able to pay full fees.
Full-fee degrees can cost up to $100,000 or even more. At the University of Sydney a full-fee veterinary science degree now costs more than $110,000. I don't know of too many families who could afford fees like that.
Already under the Howard government, student contributions to the cost of their university course have risen 85 per cent and student debt has more than doubled
to $9 billion.
Now the government plans to transfer even more costs onto students and their families. The massive hike in fees students and their families will face under the Howard government's changes will increasingly push a university education beyond the reach of most Australians.
The government's unfair university changes threaten the fundamental Australian principal of a "fair go" for all.
Labor does not believe university places should be up for sale to Australians. A place at university should be open to all Australians on the basis of ability,
not the size of their bank balance.
The Howard government's higher-education changes are also aimed at forcing universities to sign up to the government's ideological agenda on industrial relations,
governance and membership of student organisations before they can qualify for additional funding.
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