The Abbott Government's first budget contained many changes that will hurt students and universities, especially if they are already disadvantaged. HECS as we know is to be abolished and replaced with an unfair and regressive user-pays model. Graduates on lower incomes will now be saddled with a higher debt than those on higher incomes, as a result of the charging of real interest rates of up to 6% on HECS debt. The government will also directly increase student fees by slashing their Commonwealth contributions to student places by $1 billion. It will save $500 million by scrapping Start-Up Scholarships for thousands more students than previously expected. And postgraduate research students will face thousands of dollars in additional fees while, at the same time, research funding has been cut by hundreds of millions.
On top of it all these changes making public universities compete with private, for profit education companies for Government funding will have disastrous consequences on already struggling students and teachers - we’ve already seen the devastating impact that forced competition from private providers is having on TAFE. Thousands of TAFE teachers have lost their jobs, student fees have skyrocketed and TAFE campuses have been forced into mergers. The only winners have been the profit-making companies taking advantage of the new rules.
This budget shows how far Tony Abbott is willing to go in his bid to Americanise our higher education system – and he wants students to foot the bill.