The best and brightest kids deserve to go to uni. And they can't afford $100,000 degrees.

In her Mamamia column today, Tanya Plibersek argues that Christopher’s Pynes higher education reforms will only serve to disadvantage students, and Australia’s future.

Lately, there’s been a lot of debate about university fees.

Christopher Pyne thinks universities should be able to charge whatever they like for a degree.  He also thinks that students should pay a greater share of the cost of their studies because a uni education is a ‘private benefit’, not a public good.

He’s wrong on pretty much every count.

“Wrong on pretty much every count”: Chrisopher Pyne.

Australia can never be a successful nation unless we invest in education: from quality early learning and pre-school, through the school years, vocational education, and universities. For many Australians that will mean training and retraining more than once as their lives and our economy change.

Related content: Senate votes down university fees legislation. Again.

It’s estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of all the jobs created in Australia will require a diploma qualification or higher. Encouraging young Australians to go to uni is not just good for them, it’s vital for the wealth of our nation.

And most parents agree.  Research by Universities Australia found that 88% of Australians will encourage their children, and young people they know, to attend university.

Mr Pyne asks, ‘Why should a factory worker pay taxes so someone else can get a law degree?’  The answer, of course, is that that factory worker may hope for their children or grandchildren to go to uni.  And when those kids graduate, if they earn more because of the degree, they will pay higher taxes, enabling the next generation of kids to get to uni too.

88% of Australians will encourage their children to attend university.

The problem with the $100,000 degrees that Mr Pyne continues to champion is that they will stop bright, hard-working, young people who aren’t wealthy from going to uni.  Especially if the debts for their uni education come due at the same time of life that young people are considering buying a home or starting a family.

Mr Pyne says it will all be fine, because thousands of scholarships will be offered. We don’t want to return to a time when smart working class kids could only get to uni if they got a Commonwealth Scholarship.  We don’t want to return to a time where career choices were dictated by the courses scholarships were offered in. (Incidentally, the scholarships Mr Pyne is boasting about are not paid for by the government or the university, they are paid for by a levy on other students, so in some cases poor students will be subsidising other poor students!)

“We don’t want to return to a time where career choices were dictated by the courses scholarships were offered in.”

We want the best, brightest, hardest working kids, irrespective of their family background, irrespective of their parents’ ability to pay, irrespective of their own ability to pay, to be able to choose a university education, a vocational education – whatever it is that suits them, their interests and abilities.

Related content: It’s your brain, not your wallet that should determine whether or not you go to university.

A system which only relies on scholarships for those kids is not a system I can support. You don’t need a PhD to work out that Christopher Pyne’s $100,000 degrees are bad news.

Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

Share this post if you also think higher education should be affordable and not just available to the kids of parents who can afford $100,000 degrees. 

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