Oh, the humanities

Students protest against funding cuts outside Parliament House. Photo supplied.

REFORMS to higher education which would see students studying arts and humanities slugged with huge new fees prompted a protest of 100 unit students at WA’s Parliament House on Friday.

The UWA and Curtin Student Guilds are campaigning jointly against federal education minister Dan Tehan’s “job-ready graduates” plan announced last month, which will increase costs for 40 per cent of first year students from 2021.

“Students are not going to take this lightly,” Curtin guild president Hana Arai vowed.

The job-ready graduates plan aims to create 39,000 new university places, with a focus on STEM and IT courses where university fees are to be reduced.

But that’s matched by a 113 per cent increase in the cost students will pay to study arts, humanities, social science and communications; while economics, commerce and law degrees will hike up 28 percent.  

“We are putting more funding into the system in a way that encourages people to study in areas of expected employment growth,” Mr Tehan said. 

UWA student guild president Bre Shanahan says that’s unjust. 

“Students should not have to choose between studying what they love or avoiding significant debt,” Ms Shanahan said.

Ms Arai told the Herald many students felt the government was defunding courses which encouraged critical thinking, in order to wean people out of jobs which might challenge the status quo, or to clamp down on dissent.

Contribution drop

Mr Tehan’s plan will see the government’s contribution to uni degrees drop from 58 – 52 per cent, and increases the student’s contribution from 42- 48 per cent, putting more pressure on universities which have already lost funding from international students as the country’s borders closed. 

According to modelling by University of Melbourne academics Ian Marshman and Frank Larkins, the overall funding universities receive will decrease by $770 million a year under the plan. 

“Students will be charged an extra $476 million per year and universities will have reduced funding of $293 million per year,” Prof Larkins said. 

“The government’s pricing signals are designed to redirect students from humanities and social sciences to courses of national priority.”

Professor Larkins says if its successful, there’ll be fewer students in those subjects to prop up the universities’ losses in the STEM areas.

“Universities won’t be fully compensated for the student fee reduction”. 

UWA guild councillor Nicole McEwen says the plan is “a stronger move away from publicly funded education and fears staff will be the first to be cut. 

“Student and staff rights are tied together,” she says. 

The two guilds have organised another protest for Thursday July 18 at 1pm, this time with a focus on the government’s announcement of a military funding increase. 

Ms McEwen said: “$270 billion for defence while education is starved is unacceptable, and shows they definitely have the money to fully fund education.”


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