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The new uni-fees schedule rates a 'C' for economics and equity

By Stephen Saunders - posted Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Dan Tehan's new uni-fees arrangements are (a) increasingly onerous for students (b) inconsistent in government contributions (c) shallow in economic rationales and (d) not serious about equity issues.

Consider Minister Tehan's 2021 "Job-ready Graduates Package". Another riff on the Scott Morrison "Jobs R Us" approach to most everything.

This package tabulates current and proposed, government and student, contributions, for 22 large and small fields of tertiary study.


In most fields, government contributes $13,500 or $16,500 a year. Four outliers go onto $1,100, four onto $27,000. Students sling $7,700, $11,300, or a brand-new high of $14,500. But seven outlying fields go to a brand-new low, of $3,700. Supposedly based on "private returns & national priorities".

The Minister and Department offer alibis for their contributions mash-up: Student fees are still reasonable. Combined course contributions better match course costs. Degrees in higher "growth" areas deserve lower fees. The package includes disadvantage measures.

Actually, the student fees are onerous

Loftily, the Minister offers (local) students lower fees than in "similar" countries like the US and UK. Why compare us with those infected and inegalitarian nations?

The border closures expose his Coalition's repetitively optimistic forecasts. With GDP "growth" having been radically reliant on high immigration and population growth.

The COVID recession with high unemployment is no time to saddle local youth with up to $23,100-43,500 for a three-year degree, $30,800-58,000 for four years. Did Tehan miss the Treasury memo, on the employment and earnings scars they face?


It's not how mildly egalitarian European nations would do it. For locals, even internationals in some cases, they still offer low-fee or free degrees.

Quaintly, they perceive education as something of a human right, or equality marker. Rather than a private investment, or market commodity.

Glossing the economic situation, the Minister claims 60% of students will pay the same or less. While eligible students access the "world-leading" income-contingent loan scheme.

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An earlier version of this article was published at Independent Australia.

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About the Author

Stephen Saunders is a former APS public servant and consultant.

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