In the federal budget announced on Tuesday night, Treasurer Joe Hockey unveiled the most sweeping changes to the higher education sector since the 1970s, including the deregulation of tertiary education fees and increases to student contributions.
These reforms are what students from the Education Action Group were drawing attention to when they staged a protest against federal education minister Christopher Pyne during the live broadcast of Q&A on April 28.
Sydney University student Brigitte Garozzo, who smuggled in the banner protesters unfurled during the program, believes their statement achieved its purpose.
“I realised it was effective as there were so many people talking about it and talking about the education cuts and the Commission of Audit,” she said.
Ms Garozzo was concerned about the Audit’s recommendation of a 14 per cent rise in student fee contributions, but what the government actually announced in the federal budget was a higher increase of 20 per cent.
Mr Hockey also announced plans to deregulate university fees during his budget speech, which was another major concern raised by the protesters.
“Our changes to higher education will allow universities to set their own tuition fees from 2016,” Mr Hockey said.
“With greater autonomy, universities will be free to compete and improve the quality of the courses they offer.”
However, University of Sydney SRC education officer Eleanor Morley told City News that deregulation would result in rich students being able to attain quality education, while poor students will be relegated to underfunded institutions with overworked staff.
“Each university can charge however much they want for their degrees because Pyne has stated that he wants a US-style two-tiered model, where the elite universities in Australia can charge astronomical fees,” Ms Morley said.
“I think what it will result in is a deterrent to poor and working class students attending university.”
The Abbott government announced in the federal budget they will fund courses run by non-university providers, which includes private colleges.
Ms Morley believes that funding private colleges will see a further erosion of the quality of education on offer in Australia.
“They’ve suggested expanding the demand-driven system to include private colleges which are essentially run like businesses with their main aim being profit and not quality education,” Ms Morley said.
Fears the student protesters held over the lowering of the HECS-HELP repayment threshold, however, were not as dire. The threshold will be slightly lowered to an estimated $50,638 from 2016.