A student’s view of ‘big business’ universities

May 8, 2017 by

Francine Crimmins –

‘We won’t have classes next Monday because of the public holiday on Tuesday.’ My tutor tells us this in a cheery voice, as if he has done us a favour by cancelling one out of the ten classes we’ll have in this subject.

The tute feels crowded every week, about 30 of us in an engineering classroom which has chairs for maybe two thirds of our current number. Every week we spend time shuffling around to nearby rooms to gather enough chairs for us all to even sit down.

I’m currently studying a degree that costs $4000 each semester. That translates to about $60 per hour of actual teaching time.

This includes one subject where instead of being able to meet with faculty members, we must skype them once a week. If that’s not the most expensive skype call ever made, then perhaps the critics are correct, and young people should stop complaining about the potential increase of tertiary fees.

Under speculation the government plans to cut a significant amount of funding to tertiary institutions, it is predicted each student’s fees could go up by $3600. People are angry, and rightly so. Many of the people making these decisions for us on Capital Hill represent Australians who were tertiary educated for free.

Scott Morrison is an example of this. He studied at the University of New South Wales and for the first three years he would have done so under the Whitlam model of university. His final honours year may have coincided with the introduction of HECs, which was a single payment of $1800 per student. Today his same qualification would cost a student roughly $48,000.

It can be frustrating to hear politicians talk about significant cuts to education clinically, but it’s worth investigating the other players in these cuts and how they are equally responsible. There’s a long history of university management working alongside government to further their own profit, despite recommendation from their academic staff and students.

In 2015, the biggest advocates for deregulation of fees were the chancellors of the Group Of 8 universities, which include Sydney University, Melbourne University, Monash, Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.

“I would rather pay taxes for good quality services rather than excessive fees for Australian university education — which is not even world leading despite its price.”

Over the past week I’ve heard countless criticism of the government and seen the mobilisation of students ready to protest these measures, but perhaps some of the burden — as argued by Binoy Kampmark — should lie on these students’ own chancellors and vice chancellors who have consistently over many years undermined the belief in educational access in Australia.

A Deloitte Access Economics study found that while the cost of delivery of education by universities grew by 9.5 per cent, the revenue between 2010 and 2015 grew by 15 per cent. It’s hard to justify through these figures an increase in funding. Perhaps the problem is the autonomy Australian tertiary institutions have in operating like private companies, rather than an integrated and necessary service provider of education.

The study revealed universities receive sufficient revenue, through both student fees and government funding, which covers the costs of teaching most degrees. Under a Scandinavian model of university, where students pay no fees to attend university, the institution itself is a government service, meaning any profit made is redistributed to the taxpayer through other services. Having a similar comprehensive and uniform education sector in Australia would entail significant overhaul of our taxation, but I would rather pay taxes for good quality services rather than excessive fees for Australian university education — which is not even world leading despite its price.

Australian tertiary institutions are positioned on the market as service providers, offering degrees and qualifications people need to enter many sectors of the workforce. Just as any big business, universities are trying to cut costs by employing fewer staff, cutting degrees and increasing their profits through encouraging full fee paying international students. A profitable education monopoly, it’s hard looking at the figures for the government to justify increasing public funding.

No university has offered to absorb the funding cut either, instead it will be charged directly to their consumer — the students. Within this model, the institutions will probably be able to run on the same profit margin next financial year, and the one after that.

Source: A student’s view of ‘big business’ universities – Eureka Street

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