OPINION PIECE: ALL STUDENTS DESERVE THE KEY TO OPPORTUNITY

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

ALL STUDENTS DESERVE THE KEY TO OPPORTUNITY

In the coming weeks, more than a million Australians will be picking up the books at one of Australia’s world class universities.

I wish all of these students the best of luck with their studies this year.

It can be a great challenge balancing study, work and relationships. But so many Australians are determined to get the education they want - unlocking a lifetime of opportunity. It’s not only great for these individuals but it’s good for our economy.

We know that Australia’s future jobs will require more and more Australians to have a post-school qualification. Recent analysis from Mitchell Institute says that Australia’s economy needs to increase investment in post-school education in order to meet the demand of higher skilled jobs and population growth.

When Labor came to government in 2007, we had a university system increasingly out of the reach of many Australians. Undergraduate places were determined by bureaucrats in Canberra, leaving us with a university system that wasn’t keeping up with population growth, or the needs of a growing economy. Entry scores for courses were becoming unrealistically high because supply was being deliberately constrained at a time of increasing demand. The reality of John Howard’s university system was that many bright students were missing out on the course they wanted.  While others, who had wealthy parents, could buy their way into a course with a lower entry score, by paying full fees.

Under the Howard Government university participation was skewed in favour of those from the most privileged backgrounds. We had a chronic lack of participation from students from outer-metropolitan and regional areas. In fact, across a number of professions, Australia was relying on skilled migration to address the skills shortage.

If you were Indigenous, poor, a student with a disability, or lived in the country, or an outer suburban area, there was a much greater chance that you would miss out on the opportunity of a university education.

That’s why when Labor was in office we set about boosting participation in higher education.  In response to the landmark Bradley Review of higher education, we sought to boost participation rates across the population, particularly the number of students from regional Australia and disadvantaged and unrepresented backgrounds.

Labor’s transformative demand-driven system has meant that over the last decade, we’ve seen 190,000 more Australians attending university, particularly in areas where participation was lower: in the regions and the outer-suburbs of Australia’s cities.

Labor is fully committed to the demand driven system.

Unlike the Liberals, Labor doesn’t want to make it harder to go to uni. 

In the week before Christmas, the Government decided to unilaterally freeze growth in university places as part of their fourth attempt at uni cuts.

This is a cruel blow to thousands of students. Universities Australia says this will mean that in 2018 alone, up to 10,000 Australians could miss out on a university place.

And that will hit places like the outer suburbs of Perth, Brisbane, Central Queensland, outer Melbourne and Western Sydney the hardest.

The Liberals continue to propose reducing the repayment threshold for student loans and increasing the fees that universities can charge so that students will pay more money sooner for a worse quality education.

In the Parliament Labor stopped the Liberals dropping the repayment threshold to $42,000, because we thought it was too low.  We think the current threshold is about right.

Under this Government, the spectre of $100,000 degrees remains.

All of this threatens university participation and Australia’s future economic growth, as well as the 140,000 jobs supported by higher education sector - one of our largest export industries.

Labor is proud of our record of opening the doors of opportunity to thousands of Australians and we will continue to fight the Liberals’ short-sighted and unfair cuts.

This piece was originally published in The Australian on Wednesday, 14 February 2018