5 September 2014.
Hunter students will face higher fees and spiraling debt under changes to higher education moved by the Abbott Liberal Government this week.
Hunter Labor MPs Sharon Claydon, Jill Hall, Pat Conroy and Joel Fitzgibbon all spoke against the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill and strongly opposed the plans for fee deregulation, cuts to university funding and higher HECS-HELP interest rates.
“Newcastle is home to a world-class university, central to the economic and social capacity of our region,” Ms Claydon said.
“Excellence and equity are two sides of the one coin at the University of Newcastle as it should be, something the Abbott Liberal Government fails to understand. It’s regional universities like Newcastle that ensure higher education is based on capacity to learn not capacity to pay.”
Jill Hall added: “This legislation is an attack on universities, an attack on students, an attack on research and an attack on Australia’s future.
“With less government funding, the cost of university courses could more than double under the new legislation.
“The University of Newcastle strongly supports all students with 26.7% coming from low-socio-economic backgrounds. This is almost double the national average of 16.1%.
“The University also has the highest rate of Indigenous enrolments in the country. In addition, more than 75% of students already work full-time or part-time to support their studies.
“The new legislation means that university degrees will soon only be available to the wealthiest families in the region, while discouraging students from lower-income families.
“Many people are worried about these changes and the Labor is strongly opposing them.”
Pat Conroy said: “In the electorate of Charlton, most university graduates are teachers and nurses. About 13,000 people have a university degree, and four out of the top five fields of study are education and nursing,” Mr Conroy said.
“These are essential service workers – they are the people who make our local schools great, and play a vital role in our health and wellbeing. They are not, as the Education Minister has repeatedly claimed, going to earn “75% more over a lifetime than people without a University degree” or “$1 million more than people who don’t go to University.”
Joel Fitzgibbon said: “The government's plan for our universities will hit regional universities the hardest. Therefore, it will hurt the aspirations of rural and regional communities and all those around them the most.”
“The minister expects universities to replace the billions of dollars that he is cutting from their budgets by increasing student fees. But, unlike the sandstone universities in our capital cities, the capacity to put up fees is limited by the capacity of students to pay,” he said.
Several universities have already done their own modelling on course costs – and the figures are very alarming.
• The University of Melbourne believes medicine degrees could cost up to $203,000.
• Universities Australia also claims engineering and nursing degrees could more than double in cost – up to $113,000 for engineering students and up to $51,620 for nursing students.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research report also predicts a doubling of the time required to repay HECS debts and warns that up to 40 per cent of women might never repay their HECS debt under the Government's proposal to charge a real rate of interest on HECS-HELP loans.