In September the University of Tasmania broke ranks with other leading tertiary education institutions across Australia when it announced it was supportive of the government's higher education reforms.
The reforms, which were passed earlier this month, will see some students given a slight reprieve on their university costs, while others face a massive spike in the cost of their course.
Humanities students will face the worst fee spike with degrees in the field expected to cost 113 per cent more than previously.
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Also of concern is the 30 per cent hike in fees for environmental studies and 28 per cent increase for law and commerce degrees.
More importantly, for institutions, the changes will result in a decrease in funding per student for universities across the country because the Commonwealth is not increasing its contribution to course funding to cover the deficits created by lower student contributions.
They are, however, decreasing their contribution to courses which will see an increase in student fees.
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Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie gets why these changes are bad for the university sector. She gave an impassioned speech last week declaring that she would not vote to make it harder for kids from lower socioeconomic areas to get degrees.
Academics too have rallied against the changes. In July 600 academics from across Australia, including some from UTAS, signed an open letter to Education Minister Dan Tehan asking him to reconsider the changes.
They said the university funding model was flawed and that complicated changes and job ready requirements would only act as barriers to getting people quality educations.
They called on the government to avoid complex policy changes, increase funding for universities in a real and substantive way, and to integrate funding for university and vocational education. But the calls fell on deaf ears.
Despite all the concerns listed above, UTAS vice-chancellor Rufus Black told a Senate inquiry in September that the university supported the changes.
He said that the changes would provide the growing number of funded and indexed places Tasmania needed over the next decade.
But what is the point in more places if the poorer sectors of the community can no longer afford to access them?
Students will still have access to the HECS support system, but the changes will likely lead to students who traditionally graduate into lower paying jobs having higher levels of debt. This could deter people who are already facing financial hardship from pursuing higher education.
In a financial climate where universities are facing a massive loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a complete drop-off in the number of international students, it makes little to no sense to back reforms which will see them receive less funding per student.
UTAS itself is in the midst of a voluntary redundancy process which will see staff depart in an effort to address a drop in revenue created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week The Examiner reported that between 120 and 200 university staff are expected to lose their jobs in that redundancy process. With so many staff set to depart and lower funding per student, it is only reasonable to assume that the student experience will be affected in some way by the changes.
- Jackson Worthington is a journalist at The Examiner
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