Doorstop interview, University of Newcastle


SUBJECT/S: A degree shouldn’t be a debt sentence.

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: We’re here today, with my Labor colleagues, to discuss the future of this university and the future of this university and its importance to this region. The Commonwealth Government, Mr Abbott’s Government, promised that there’d be no cuts to education before the election. He also promised there’d be no fee rises. And now this university has to find $168 million to make up for the cuts that Mr Abbott’s Government has imposed.

Students, if they are forced to accept the changes this government is proposing, will have to find massively increased levels of debt to finance them, some for over a period of 25 years. Opportunities will be reduced as a result of this Government’s unfair budget changes. Students will have to make choices as to whether or not they can actually go to university.

Families will have to make choices. If this Government’s changes, as proposed, go through the parliament, families will have to choose, many of them, do they have a second mortgage? Which child do they assist to get through university?

This is what happens in America – the Government’s Americanisation of the Australian university system will limit opportunities or make it much more expensive to get a university degree, and will make it much more difficult for people on lower and middle incomes to go to university.

Perhaps, we’ll leave it there and ask if there are any questions.

JOURNALIST: It should really be the other way, shouldn’t it, in regards to opportunity?

CARR: Well, the whole point of the education system is to provide us with a better country – a country in which people have a chance to get ahead and do better than their parents did; a country that has the wherewithal to ensure prosperity for the whole nation; a country that recognises the private benefit and the public benefit of an educated workforce and an educated, civilised society.

And these changes that the Government’s committing itself to means that the University of Newcastle would be profoundly disadvantaged because the university has been so successful in attracting people from poorer backgrounds.  A third of the students at this university come from poorer backgrounds, and there’s less opportunity for them to be able to meet the increased debt levels which this Government’s imposing.

This is a university that has profoundly lifted its research effort. It’s growing, it’s a success story, but it can’t afford these cuts, and that’s why the Senate should reject the Government’s proposals and keep rejecting the Government’s proposals, no matter how many times they present them.

JOURNALIST: If these do go through, how many years before [inaudible]?

CARR: Well, I think you’ll see immediately students making choices about turning away from university. Families simply can’t afford these increased levels of debt. Universities will have to make choices: do they increase the fees, do they reduce the course offerings or do they reduce their campuses? They may have to do all of those things. This is a particularly savage budget for rural and regional communities, and it’s not just in universities – it’s the health system, you see it in the pension system, you see it in so many different ways. The National Party has abandoned rural and regional Australia. Labor is standing firm, we are saying this Government should go back to the drawing board when it comes to universities and these proposals should be rejected by the Australian Senate.  

JOURNALIST: There has been a case made for partial deregulation as a means to increase competition between universities. Why has Labor taken the stance of completely disagreeing with this deregulation?

CARR: Well, I’m not certain that the case has been made. What this package of measures means is that the elite universities, the sandstone universities, will do very well – I don’t have any dispute with that. It was designed by them, for the benefit of them. It will reinforce the power and privilege of the great metropolitan universities, but it’s the regional universities that will be most savagely disadvantaged. We’ll see that even with these scholarships: they are a device by which the Commonwealth is not putting any money into at all, but they’ll be used to poach students from rural and regional universities. This is a government that’s turned its back on social equity; this is a government that’s also turned its back on excellence, because it’s not funding the research programs properly.

If the government wanted to have these sorts of changes, these huge, radical changes, you would’ve thought they would have had a proper consultation process and they wouldn’t have lied to the Australian people in the last election. $100,000 university degrees are something that this country simply can’t afford. The people of this country are saying no to the Government, and the Australian Senate should say no this Government as well.

JOURNALIST: You’ve had talks with senior staff here at the university, what are the key areas of concern for this campus, in particular if these changes do come in?

CARR: I think the real issue is about the ability of students to pay the extra costs in getting to university. It particularly will affect people from poorer backgrounds, but it’s not just people from poorer backgrounds – middle-class families will struggle as well. And some parents will have to choose – do they have a second mortgage, or do they choose which of their children they actually help to go to university? That’s what happens in America, and under this Government is trying to Americanise the education system. Now this is a university that’s done very well under the research program. It would be madness to reduce the research effort, because that’s the foundation upon which the university’s reputation has been built. So they can’t afford to reduce the research program – choices would have to be made about increasing fees, reducing course content in the breadth and/or in terms of the regional campuses. 

JOURNALIST: Another hit for the regional areas?

CARR: A really savage hit in the regional areas, particularly when we know how hard it is to for people to be able to afford to go to university even today. Anyone who thinks that things are easy at the moment ought to think again. To make it even more difficult, I think would be a profound tragedy for this country, and it would affect, I think, our question about what sort of society we’d be; it’d make us a much more unequal country, and a country that was not able to meet the big challenges that we’re facing in the 21st century.

JOURNALIST: If the Government backs down on its plan to link student loan interest rates with the bond rate would that make its education package more palatable?

CARR: No, because there’s so much involved with this package. It’s not just about the higher levels of debt – it’s the cost to the program itself, the 20 per cent funding reduction, the cuts to research; the Government is actually reducing support for students. The Minister talks about this being a comprehensive, “well-oiled machine” – what nonsense. What we do know, though, is that the Government hasn’t thought through the consequences of its policy, and tinkering at the edges by changing one little bit of it is not enough for us to support the package. What Professor Chapman has said is that his changes would not affect the overall numbers in the budget very much so it is about tinkering at the edges and it’s totally unacceptable from our point of view, to simply accept a con job like the Government is proposing.

JOURNALIST: From your discussions with Senate colleagues do you believe that these changes won’t make it through?

CARR: No, they won’t make it through. It’s quite clear, the Minister’s acknowledged that. The current Senate will reject these proposals and no tinkering at the edges will be sufficient to change that basic formula – the Government should go back to the drawing board, scrap these changes, do what they said they would do in the electioWn: make sure they don’t cut education and make sure they don’t increase the fees to students.

Thank you very much.


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