Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/331/5598
Australia: Fees Don't Work
TONY BLAIR has said that the Australian system of university funding proves that top-up fees work. David Murray, a student in Australia spoke to the socialist about his experiences.
IT WON'T be a surprise to many Australian students to find out that the Australian model of university fee payment is being adopted in England. On the surface it seems like a very equitable solution, with the needs of both the government (they don't have to pay as much in education expenditure) and students (they won't have to pay just yet) being met. As usual though, this is rubbish. It is acting as a deterrent for working class students seeking education.
Since the beginning of my studies in economics I have reached a debt level of $15,000. On a number of occasions I have considered leaving university. As I'm not entitled to a youth allowance, on top of this I have to live at home and work up to 30 hours just to earn money for the basics of textbooks, union fees and sundries like entertainment.
Working and living so far from the university campus has led me to fail many subjects which I will have to pay for with a higher tax burden. For people like myself the scheme has nothing to do with equity. Most people I know have had similar if not worse experiences.
The Whitlam Labor government of 1972-75 brought about a number of reforms, including free education at all levels. But after this government was sacked free education was gradually whittled away. Free education went from being seen as an investment to being seen as a cost.
First they introduced the HEAC fee for all students. Then this was replaced by what is now known as the HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme). Between 1989-1997 HECS was a flat contribution which was indexed annually to inflation. Students have to pay HECS even on subjects which they have failed or not completed.
After promising that no Australian would be worse off, the Howard Liberal government brought in a three level HECS payment system. Humanities at one end with law and medicine at the other.
Further 'reforms' which will take place next year include means by which individual universities can charge higher fees for their courses, and allow for more full-fee paying enrollments.
Unified action between staff and students is needed to explode the myths surrounding bogus claims of equity, which Australian experience has proven is a load of polly-waffle. The only time when there is real equity in education is when education is free.
In The Socialist 24 January 2004:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis