Dear Education Minister,
I am a citizen, I am a student, I am SO not happy.
I write this after seeing a news report that suggests the government wants to move to a more “American” system of university funding. I’m sure you’ve seen images portrayed in American films and television shows where it’s a running joke that people are still paying off their student loans. Unfortunately such comedic comments are reflective of very real circumstances for many American workers. In Australia politicians such as yourself, who now by some nightmarish twist of democracy decide our fates, were able to attend university tuition-free. I’m sure students were less than happy when you started charging, but the HECS/HELP system eventually made university study possible for most people who wanted to. In the US students may have put in a lot of hard work only to find that they can’t go to Harvard or Yale, even if they were accepted, because they simply can’t afford it. Some students can’t afford to go to university at all. All this does is contribute to the education gap between rich and poor.
Now I always used to say “at least we’re lucky in Australia”. It is the sad fact that if a move to an American system is made, I’ll no longer be able to say that. I go to the University of Queensland; it’s considered one of the best, if not the best, university in the state. It is a member of the Group of Eight. Amazing breakthroughs in research have happened here. We’re home of the pitch drop experiment, home of the creator of the cervical cancer vaccine, and we have world class research facilities in science, humanities, business and psychology. I consider it a great honour to study here. It didn’t happen by chance either. I worked hard in high school to earn a place at that university, as did many of my peers. Equally hard working are my peers that attend QUT and Griffith University. Every semester I receive notice that keeps track of how much HECS debt I am accumulating, and let me give you a preview:
BIOL1040 = $1,045
CRIM1019 = $733
PSYC2030 = $733
PSYC2040 = $733
Semester Total = $3,244
The estimated cost of my Bachelor of Arts each year is $6,394, but because I take science subjects which cost more it is likely to be more. My friends in science can expect to pay $8,266 per year. Engineers pay a hefty $8,617. Medical students, the future of our health system, pay some of the highest costs: $10,085 per year. People are able to complete these degrees because of the HECS scheme that enables them to pay back their debt after having the chance to earn a real salary. Imagine having to pay these costs upfront, or having to take out a student loan that accrues interest and demands you start paying the day you graduate. I would not be at university right now if that was the case. I would not be at TAFE. I would not be able to afford an education. It may interest you to know that I recently decided to study postgraduate nursing ($6,044 per year). Nurses are essential, often undervalued, and underpaid. Imagine the trouble graduate nurses would have paying student loans. Most graduates would, that’s why the salary threshold exists in the current system.
There are already concerns that public high school students are being left behind because the federal government is not honouring agreements made under the Labor government in regards to Gonski. Early childhood education is also a source of concern in terms of funding. Do we really want to be a country where the quality of your education is solely dependent on the size of your bank balance? Some of the world’s great minds have surely been lost in the US because they were never given a chance to foster their education at some of the world’s best institutions. Education should be for all. In terms of university, the best courses should be earned through hard work and there should be opportunities to enter these as one acquires life and work experience.
Forget the election promise; sadly after all this time I know better than to believe a promise made in an election. This isn’t about broken promises, this is about education and who can access it. Students across the world look to our university system with envy, because being rich isn’t a prerequisite. In the US, a poor girl like me would never get to go to an Ivy League no matter how hard I work. Is that the message you want to send to our children, minister? “You can have the best education if you have the right bank balance”. Shouldn’t children from low income backgrounds have their dreams of a better life granted? What happened to working hard and reaping rewards? Because an American system essentially tells the poor kids to go home, that their hard work doesn’t matter because they can’t pay the bill. The system contributes to the rich and poor education and employment gap, while also fuelling the notion of “rich privilege and entitlement”.
Look at your own government departments. Your scientists, criminologists, administrative officials, and advisors are all able to be all they can because of their education. You don’t have to be private school educated to have a valuable education, but university is where people from different high school backgrounds can finally play on the same field. University helps to close the gap, especially now that there are a number of flexible pathways into even the most elite universities. Don’t take that away from us. I will happily pay every cent of my huge HELP debt, since it will come out subtly and there are tax deduction options. Education in this country is the envy of all the world, our universities attract huge numbers of international students which help to stimulate the economy. Good access to education helps to reduce rates of unemployment. There are some cash flow issues in our country, I get it, but cuts to essential services including education and health will only hurt more. No matter how hard times get, there are certain things that need priority and the education of our citizens who will one day run the country, be an integral part of the health system, teach the next generations and build infrastructure is most certainly a high priority.
Christopher Pyne, hands off my education.
To get involved and have your say, visit Keep It Clever and sign the petition or write a letter to your local member. And remember that an aggressive approach to the debate (unnecessary name calling and irrelevant issues brought up just to shame politicians) doesn’t get a great response. The word of the country’s citizens presented in an intelligent, logical way shows the government how valuable we are. The pen is mightier than the sword!