The federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham will release a report on May 8 commissioned by the government that will allegedly indicate that universities receive adequate funding for most courses and that their revenues are growing faster than their costs.
This report will be used to justify a proposed $2.8 billion funding cut that will raise the costs of course fees and mean that students will need to repay their HECS debts sooner.
Labor has announced it will block this funding cut. But it was not so long ago that the Julia Gillard Labor government proposed cuts to tertiary education and the end of the student start-up scholarship payments, policies that were later taken up by the Tony Abbott coalition government under former education minister Christopher Pyne.
This latest round of proposed funding cuts comes after $3.9 billion has been cut from university funding since 2011, as well as $3.7 billion cut from university infrastructure funding.
Almost 40% of Australia’s population engage in university education, but the government funds universities at below the OECD average. With a free education system, Finland has the same participation rate with twice the government expenditure. In 2014 Germany abolished tuition fees, less than 10 years after their failed experiment of introducing fees.
When the concept of free tertiary education is raised, it is often followed by statements about the limited amount of public expenditure available. But there is little questioning of where that public expenditure is currently going.
In the 2016 budget projections for the 2016–17 financial year, more funding was allocated for private schools — $10.6 billion — than was allocated for tertiary education — $9.6 billion. Only 2% of total government spending projected for the year was allocated to higher education.
In 2016 the Australian Tax Office released a list of the 670 companies in Australia which paid no tax in the 2014–15 financial year. At the same time, billions of dollars in subsidies are given to the fossil fuel industry each year.
It is not a matter of limited public expenditure, when successive governments spend billions of dollars on private schools, fail to demand taxes from big businesses and give fossil fuel subsidies to polluting industries.
Norway, Finland, Sweden and Germany, to name just a few, are nations that provide free tertiary education. Some countries even provide free education to international students as well.
It is time for Australia to stop lagging behind Europe. Free tertiary education can be provided for via a progressive taxation system that sees the individually wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of tax.