Written by Samantha Wheeler
The upheaval COVID-19 has brought has left many students and future graduates uncertain of what their future may hold in the coming years. However, the Minister of Education Dan Tehan has announced the new ‘Job-ready package’ that will alter the funding rates for university courses, not only to try and assist universities in these hard times but also to ‘Deliver more job-ready graduates in the disciplines and regions where they are needed most and help drive the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic’ (Australian Government, 2020).
What exactly are these changes?
Pictured in figure 1 (Australian Government, 2020) is the old system of how the government funds universities on the left and the new system on the right. The government is planning to move the funding for Indigenous, low-socioeconomic students, regional students, and national institutes into one envelope of funding called the ‘Indigenous, Regional, and Low SES Attainment Fund Industry Link’. The purpose of this funding will be to increase internships and practicums and reward universities that establish partnerships with different industries (Australian Government, 2020).
A new funding envelope will also be introduced in the new system and will be known as the ‘Better Focused Growth’ (orange section in figure 1). This appears to ensure funding for private universities and university colleges. The funding will also be utilised for city deals, which are agreements between the three levels of governance in Australia (local, state, and federal), as well as the local community affected by the deal. This usually includes upgrades and renovations to universities in these cities, as well as increasing the accessibility of the campus via road and public transport upgrades.
Figure 1 – How funding will change from the old system to the new
Current system on the left, new system on the right
*CGS (Commonwealth Grant Scheme) = Funding for full-time domestic students
*HEPP (Higher Education Participation & partnerships) = Funding for lower socioeconomic students)
*Regional Loading = Funding for regional/rural students
*Enabling Loading = Funding for enabling courses
*National Institutes = Funding for universities that facilitate key activities that are a national significance (e.g. performing arts)
Industry linkage fund = Funding incentivises for universities to engage with outside industry internships
In this system, universities will gain $450 – $460 million more than in 2020. However, this will not make up for the potential $3 – $4.6 billion loss of university revenue this year due to future predicted losses of revenue, as well as the lack of international student enrolments. The government has also ensured that public universities will not be qualified for Jobkeeper. We, as students, have already seen the effects of this here at Deakin University with extensive staffing cuts.
How will this affect universities and students?
When you refer to figure 2, it showcases which degrees will gain Government funding and which degrees will have theirs reduced. The federal government funds universities by type of degree and per place.
In ten degrees (nursing, teaching, science, etc), we’ll see massive fee reductions—some of the cuts are almost $10,000 (environmental degree), and this is per student. This means universities will be losing money from the government, and the students entering these degrees might experience a lesser standard of education due to these reductions—possibly less student support and less staff.
Figure 2 – Showcases which degrees will receive an increase in funding and which degrees will be exempt.
Per student, per year. Extrapolated from the ‘job-ready-package’ document.
- If you are a current student, there will be no increase to your student contribution (HELP debt). However, if you’re in degrees such as agriculture and math, you’ll be paying 62 per cent less—if you’re in degrees such as science, health, architecture, environmental science, and engineering, then your student contribution will be lowered by 20 per cent (Grattan, M).
- For future students, it will mean some students pay less for their degrees, with students in humanities-related fields having their student contribution soar by 113 per cent, while law and commerce degrees students’ contribution will soar by 28 per cent (Grattan, M).
- These changes will only affect the commonwealth funded postgraduate degrees. However, due to universities’ loss of revenue, there is a possibility they’ll hike up fees.
This begs the question, why is the government incentivising degrees?
A table provided by the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment showcases that the highest enrolments of commencing students in 2018 were Management, Commerce, Society, and Culture. Health was also among the highest enrolled courses as well, with the third most enrolments. Despite this, the federal government has deemed it a field with future job-growth that isn’t popular with students (Australian Government, 2018).
Incentivising degrees has a low chance of working, as students will still pick degrees that will interest them, and if they’re unable to afford them, it will deter them from going into university at all (Brown, J 2020). Trying to push students into degrees that they may not be fit for or be interested in, will ultimately hurt those industries more than it will help.
These new changes also assume that students will do a degree and then go straight to work in the field they’ve studied. However, many statistics show graduates will have several different careers within their working life (FYA, 2015). It’s also unwise to make lasting decisions in such an unpredictable job-market due to the volatile circumstances of these times.
To top everything off, students may see a change in their HECS.
‘Any student who fails more than 50 per cent of their classes after taking at least eight units will no longer be able to access a commonwealth-supported place or a HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP loan. Therefore, if you as a student fail eight units and you want to continue, you’ll have to pay full costs.’ (Macmillan, J 2020)
Ultimately, this will lock out domestic students that may be struggling with economic instability, mental health issues, disability, or confusion in their future career. A way to prevent this would be the government increasing funding in career education in high schools, and a far better way to assist failing students is to invest money into student support services, instead of locking them out of degrees all-together.
Let’s ask ourselves, why do you think the government is making these changes?
Samantha Wheeler has been involved in student activism and politics since 2018. She ran as an independent candidate for an NUS delegate position in 2019 against GO, and she is now being voted in as the Arts and Education Faculty Board Undergraduate Representative. She’s involved with National Union Students, RAFFWU, and supports many other organisations around Victoria. She believes in equality for all, no matter your background, class, or sexuality. She fights against racism, sexism, and for LGBTIQ+ community. She would like to see more people of colour, such as herself, get more involved in student activism.
- Figure 2, working out https://docs.google.com/document/d/16r9nCZaK4apAdHgK5B9ExIP82xh520ZE6CX3NW1F9kY/edit?usp=sharing
- Australian Government, Department of Education, skills and Employment 2012, ‘Commonwealth Grant Scheme Guideline’ https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2014C00829
- Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020, ‘Better University Funding arrangements: more transparent and accountable funding’ https://www.dese.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/faqs_-_jrg_-_npilf_and_irlsaf_0.pdf
- Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020, ‘Job ready Graduate Package’ https://www.dese.gov.au/job-ready
- Universities Australia, ‘How Universities are Funded’ https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/policy-submissions/teaching-learning-funding/how-universities-are-funded/
- Grattan, Michelle, 2020, ‘Fee cuts for nursing and teaching but big hikes for law and humanities in package expanding university places’ The conversation, https://theconversation.com/fee-cuts-for-nursing-and-teaching-but-big-hikes-for-law-and-humanities-in-package-expanding-university-places-141064
- Universities Australia, 2020, ‘Investment in University research an investment in COVID-19 Recovery’ https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/media-item/investment-in-university-research-an-investment-in-covid-19-recovery/
- Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020, ‘Better University funding arrangements’ https://www.dese.gov.au/job-ready/better-university-funding-arrangements?fbclid=IwAR0Li9MqfUrCag31GZOO-xBHd73rrf0Bpv-pj1sbA4_zHRtUjh0ofz4cr0w
- Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and employment, 2018, ‘2018 First half year student summary time series’ https://docs.education.gov.au/node/51956
10. Brown, Jason, 2018, ‘Cheaper courses won’t help graduates get jobs – they need good careers advice and links with employers’ https://theconversation.com/cheaper-courses-wont-help-graduates-get-jobs-they-need-good-careers-advice-and-links-with-employers-141270
11. Foundation for Young Australians, 2015, ‘The New Work smarts, thriving in the new work order’ https://www.fya.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/2017/07/FYA_TheNewWorkSmarts_July2017.pdf
12. Macmillian, J, 2020, ‘University changes would see students who fail classes losing access to HECS loans’ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-13/university-hecs-limits-for-failing-students-explained/12553548
13. Grattan, M, 2020, ‘Fee cuts for nursing and teaching but big hikes for law and humanities in package expanding university places’ https://theconversation.com/fee-cuts-for-nursing-and-teaching-but-big-hikes-for-law-and-humanities-in-package-expanding-university-places-141064
14. Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020 https://www.dese.gov.au/job-ready