lifestyle

Because it's your brain, not your wallet that should determine whether or not you go to university.

By ALEXIS CAREY

UPDATE: Treasurer Joe Hockey has indicated that $100,000 degrees could soon become a reality – and that the Government is also determined to rip money out of the university sector for good measure.

In the Financial Review today, Hockey is credited with this chilling quote: “We’ll find any way we can to take the money out of universities”.
So that expensive you degree you’ll soon be paying through the nose for? It is likely to be of much lower quality, yet also exorbitantly expensive. Nice.

Call me a crazy dreamer, but I’ve always thought that gaining a place at university should be based on ability, not the number of zeros in your parents’ bank account.

But that’s EXACTLY what will happen if the Federal Government’s controversial higher education reforms are passed.

If you’ve not come across the proposed changes, let me fill you in. They were first announced in the May budget and in a nutshell, they would see universities set their own fees, which in turn could lead to a massive increase in the cost of student loans.

It has been predicted that fees could rise above $100,000, and the Government’s legislation could be introduced into the Parliament as early as this week.

Supporters of the reforms claim they are needed because at the moment, universities have a flawed funding structure with no cap on student numbers but an increasing funding gap. In layman’s terms, this means unis are struggling with too many students, and not enough money.

They argue that the reforms will give students more choice and unis more freedom to determine their size and their degrees.

That could be true, but here’s the thing – deregulating uni fees (and pushing fees up) will unfairly disadvantage certain students and the entire country will suffer as a result. What happens if our best and brightest minds also happen to be from poorer backgrounds? We could have the next Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein or Marie Curie in our midst but if they can’t afford an education, all that brilliance and potential could be lost to us.

Obviously, kids from poorer families will be the hardest hit.

They will also have a huge impact on female graduates, as women are more likely to take time out of their careers to have children and care for sick relatives. Career breaks equal a loss of income and superannuation and mean that women will then take longer to pay off their debts than their male peers.

And kids from the country, who already face staggering costs associated with moving and renting, will also be affected.

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Studying at uni will be impossible for many if the reforms are passed.

Unions, student groups, Labor and the Greens say that deregulating fees will make university unaffordable for poorer students.

They say degrees in medicine could rise as high as $180,000, that the cost of degrees will more than double on average and that it will take more than twice as long to pay back debts for some courses.

And most worrying of all, they say that entry to university based on merit alone will become a thing of the past. The only thing that will matter will be if you are willing and able to pay the astronomical fees (or be saddled with decades of debt).

The Australian Labor Party is fighting against the reforms.

Can you imagine being stuck with a debt like that? At the age of 18,19, 20? It means that we could soon be lumped with an American-style system, where only the very wealthy (or very lucky scholarship winners) have the option of higher education. The whole idea of student loans is to take away financial barriers to education. But faced with a potential $100,000 debt, how many young people will be turned off the idea of uni altogether?

And here’s another thing – while higher education clearly benefits individual students, it also boosts the entire country. It benefits the economy and it benefits society. Education is a public good and a basic right.  We need to invest in and regulate higher education so that it stays accessible to everyone.

If uni fees go up, we’re guessing sales of two-minute noodles will too…

I was one of those country kids that made the big, scary move from a small country town to the big smoke as a wide-eyed teenager. It was overwhelming and I was terrified – but I was one of the lucky ones. My parents helped to support me and I also qualified for Youth Allowance and Rent Assistance. But even with all those helping hands, I struggled. The cost of living in Sydney was astronomical and there were a lot of times when I lived on a diet of two-minute noodles. If I had to face those massive costs, AND be saddled with a $100,000 debt, I might not have bothered at all.

And there would now be one less voice standing up against ridiculous, damaging policies like this one.

How did the prospect of student debt impact your decisions about education?

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