Fight begins against Liberals’ new cuts and fee increases

The Morrison Government is hoping the Senate will agree to its university fee increases when parliament resumes from 24 August.

In a sickening act of hypocrisy, Scott Morrison, who got his degree for free, is doubling the fees for students in the humanities. This is at a time when the Liberals have announced $270 billion in military spending. This sum of money could fund free universities for decades.

The government’s aim is to cut per student funding to universities and force students to make up the difference through higher fees. It expects to save $770 million in base funding by increasing students’ HECS debts. However, these government cuts will not be fully covered by the fee increases, and universities will be left with a $280 million a year overall funding shortfall. Government spending on higher education is already way below that of other OECD rich nations, at only 0.8 per cent of GDP. These cuts will decrease funding levels even more.

The funding shortfalls are going to push universities to increase their austerity measures by further cutting courses, cutting staff jobs, and decreasing the quality of education and working conditions. This is a blatant attack on university education that follows the government’s failure to extend JobKeeper payments to university staff.

The plan would increase student fees for humanities, law and economics while reducing them for courses such as engineering, nursing and teaching.

Students now have an average HECS debt of $20,300 but with Morrison’s changes this is set to jump. A three year course in law, economics or the humanities will cost $43,500 under the changes, and popular five year double degrees will leave students with a debt of $72,500.

Students should not be finishing their studies with so much debt. And in 2019 the government also dropped the minimum income at which HECS debt has to be paid off to $45,000.

Dan Tehan, the Minister of Education, said in his announcement, “What this is about is incentivising people to look at teaching, to look at nursing, to look at allied health, to look at engineering, to look at IT”, implying that the government wants to drive students away from arts courses.

This is an attempt to force universities to create a “job ready” labour force that fits the needs of Australian capitalism.

Universities are being run more and more as businesses themselves, not as educational intuitions. The management teams of universities are perfectly willing to implement austerity. Currently the Vice Chancellor of Sydney Uni sits on a salary of $1.5 million, yet is still making cuts to courses and staff.


Students and staff have been fighting these measures for months. Students from the History faculty organised an action on campus in early July calling out the proposed cuts to seven subjects. Opposition from staff and students to cutting the ‘Fascism and Anti-Fascism’ course was successful, with History lecturer David Brophy telling the rally, “Thanks to the campaign… we have won back a subject that was on the chopping block. That’s one junior academic whose job has been saved for another semester”.

Organising within the faculty highlighted the importance of opposing the cuts to courses as action can win.

Lydia Fagaan, a history student, spoke on her personal experience of another subject that is facing the axe called “The history of protest in Australia”. She also noted the irony of considering cutting a course on the American slave trade given the current explosion around racism in the US through the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Liberals’ changes continue an attack on universities that has been occurring for 30 years, dismantling the system of free university education introduced under Gough Whitlam. Both Labor and Liberal governments have attacked university funding.

It was Labor that ended free education, introducing fees for domestic students and creating the HECS loan scheme to force students to pay part of the cost of their degrees. Since then, fees have increased repeatedly.

But student and staff resistance has also blunted the fee hikes. John Howard’s Liberal government introduced full upfront fees for domestic students in 1997. This was met with massive protests across the country including the occupation of university administration buildings. They were eventually scrapped after Labor returned to government in 2007. The Liberals’ efforts to deregulate fees in 2014 were also stopped.

Mass protest is the type of action we need to stop the latest fee hikes. University staff and students must come together to oppose the Morrison government’s attacks as well as the austerity measures on campus.

By Manon O’Neill


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