Australia/October 01, 2020/By: Paul Karp and Katharine Murphy/Source: https://www.theguardian.com/
The crossbencher’s intervention leaves the Morrison government’s job-ready graduate package hanging by a thread.
Jacqui Lambie has come out against the Coalition’s higher education funding changes, warning the bill “makes university life harder for poor kids and poor parents”.
The intervention on Wednesday leaves the government’s job-ready graduate package hanging by a thread: Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff will have the casting vote because Lambie, Labor, the Greens and Rex Patrick are opposed.
After Lambie’s announcement, Griff confirmed to Guardian Australia his party had not locked in a final position and was still seeking feedback from South Australian universities about how to improve the bill.
The bill increases fees for some courses, including humanities, to fund fee cuts for other courses such as sciences and an overall cut in the government contribution from 58% to 52%.
In a statement Lambie said she wanted “everyone to get a chance at being what they want to be” and would not use her Senate vote to tell the country “that poor people don’t get dream jobs”.
Lambie said that amendments negotiated by One Nation included “sweetheart little discounts” of 10% for students who pay upfront that would benefit wealthy families.
“They make it cheaper for rich families to go to university, and don’t help poor families to do the same.
“Before the upfront discount was abolished, only one in 10 students taking advantage of it came from poor backgrounds.
“Nothing about this indulgence from One Nation could be considered to be helpful to the battler.”
Lambie said that poor kids “get a raw deal from this bill” because they were more likely to be “scared off by having to shoulder a massive debt”.
The bill increases fees for humanities degrees by up to 113%, leading to complaints from the university sector that some students will pay more than 90% of the course of their degree while others pay less than half.
Lambie said poor kids would get “pushed out of their preferred courses based on price” because they “are watching every dollar, knowing they might need that money down the track”. “They’re the ones we should be looking out for.”
Lambie also objected to new provisions removing funding from students who fail more than half their first-year subjects, which she said “kicks” kids out of university rather than giving them a “leg up”.
She noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander students were 50% more likely to fail one subject than non-ATSI students.
Although the bill promises 39,000 extra university places by 2023, Lambie said there were “real questions” about whether they would eventuate.
On Wednesday, the education minister, Dan Tehan, was forced to tip in $326m of extra funding to universities for “up to” 12,000 more places in 2021, after claims the bill would fail to create enough new places in 2021.
Lambie said she accepted the commonwealth contribution could be cut for some courses to save taxpayer money, but the system would not be improved by “weird and obscure culture wars where universities are the enemy and the working class are collateral damage”.
Lambie noted the government could push ahead to pass the bill without her, but said she could not support a bill that “reserves its harshest hits for our poorest kids”.
“They might be happy to kick the ladder out from students who are trying to land their dream job, but I’m not prepared to do it.”
Earlier in September, Centre Alliance’s education spokeswoman, Rebekha Sharkie, said “some parts” of the bill had merit, signalling it could support the package in return for changes on behalf of South Australia’s three universities.
Because all three of the state’s universities are classified as low-growth metropolitan universities, the package offers them funding for a 1% growth in bachelor places, compared with 2.5% for high-growth metro universities and 3.5% for regional universities.
Griff said Centre Alliance was “still working through this”. “We have gone out to South Australian universities to talk about any ways forward with this package.
“We expect some feedback imminently. We haven’t locked in any formal position on this yet.”
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.