September 2, 2014 - 9:44pm
BY JESSE KLEIN
One of my first nights in Australia, my hall and I were having a couple drinks and talking about money. Many of them were hoping to find jobs in the area and asking for advice on where to send out their CVs. Some were complaining about working for $14.00 an hour (Yeah, I tried to hide my scoffing when I heard that too).
They finally got around to talking about university fees. In Australia most university fees are paid through the government by a program called the Higher Education Contribution Scheme. During university, the education is free and the student only has to pay it back when and if they start making over $50,000 a year. University tuition in Australia is capped at $10,000 and most are lower. One of my hall-mates wasn’t on HECS. Her parents were paying – full price – for her schooling. The other people in the group were shocked, confused as to what it would mean for a kid to have their parents pay upfront for school.
I shrank back a little.
$10,000 or less a year? I thought. What the hell are they going to think of me paying almost $50,000?!
A week ago a new budget was proposed in the Australian government. Under the budget the government would no longer cap tuition prices for universities. The universities would now be allowed to set their own prices, higher fees based on how profitable a certain major is thought to be later on. HECS will now start collecting interest and if you are between 25 and 30 years old you will either have to “Learn or Earn.” This is a welfare program that only gives benefits if the person is in school or has a job. The government will force a young person back to school if they are unable to find a job.
As the United States government begs and pleads with universities to keep their costs low, the Australian government has gone the direct oppositeopposite route. In America, as much as we hate the extreme tuition prices, we have become desensitized to them. In Australia that isn’t the case. Even these seemingly small changes caused massive uproar.
University students held protests in the center of Melbourne that shut down the tram system. Joe Hockey, the budget writer, was on a political question & answer program where Australian Citizens didn’t so much as ask questions but take shots at him and the new budget. It was the topic for every newspaper article and radio broadcast.
Even though the changes and the prices were very different from the United StatesAmerica some of the sentiments from the students I talked to were similar to those in the States. Most were just upset about the bleak future they seemed to be in for. Everything seemed to be getting worse, less jobs, less support and an education system that is run like a business — something United States students gave up on trying to combat decades ago.
The interest place on HECS seemed to cause the most distress after the uncapping of university prices. Student loans are a huge burden to American college students. They’re also a huge drain on the American economy. It therefore makes sense that Australian students would fear the same burden being instituted for them.
“Kids from the country of Australia already don’t go to Uni because they are too afraid to create debt, it’s just the culture they have grown up in,” said Lucy Johnson, a first year at Australian Catholic University. Even though they might never have to pay any of it back if they don’t get a well-paying job, the fear of debt just runs too deep in rural areas. According to the students I talked to the 10 percent interest on HECS will increase these fears and continue to dissuade rural kids from getting degrees.
The astronomical prices of tuition in the States doesn’t seem to dissuade many from going to college because we have been taught that a college degree is a requirement for the 21st century world. The New York Times wrote an article that stated a college degree is still valuable. It’s worth the debt burden that students have and fear once they graduate. In my bubble of Silicon Valley, a university education was the only kind I wanted, regardless of the cost.
While Australian students fear the changes coming to their education system, we fear the status quo: that nothing will change except the continued rise in tuition and debt.
Jesse Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.