Students already forced to contend with online learning, teaching staff cuts, and the loss in many cases of their own jobs, are now being threatened with the cancellation of government support for their university places if they struggle academically.
Under Liberal education minister Dan Tehan’s proposal, those who fail half of their subjects in their first year of a university course will either have to abandon the course, switch degrees, or pay full fees, the latter being impossible for most students, even before Tehan’s June announcement of massive fee hikes for many courses.
As any student will tell you, it is not uncommon to have a semester that is a write-off due to factors beyond your control. Whether it’s having to work long hours while studying in order to make ends meet, or being forced to enrol full time in order to access the pittance that is Youth Allowance when a part time load would be more appropriate, study often suffers because of the lack of adequate financial support for students. Added to this are the extensive pandemic-related job-losses, high rents and low wages that students are subject to. These students will be faced with being booted out of university unless they have rich parents who are willing to fund them to finish their degrees.
Tehan argues that this is for students’ own good, as it will stop them accruing large debts for unsuccessful study. But it’s hard to take those concerns seriously, coming from the guy who plans to more than double the debt burden for arts students from next year. If he wanted to reduce unecessary student debt, he could start with reversing these attacks.
The university system functions primarily to serve the needs of industry, by churning out graduates with skills that are required by businesses. The Liberals have used the COVID-19 crisis to force univerisities further down this road, by increasing the cost to students of courses deemed undesirable by industry.
Penalising students who are at risk of not graduating on time or who are struggling with their studies is part of the same process of cutting all possible fat out of the education system and producing a leaner, meaner, neoliberal machine. And a performance-based funding model is part of the long-term Liberal dream of a fully individualised market system with more up-front fee payers.
The obvious solution to student debt is to cancel it, and stop creating more. Education should be provided by the government, funded through taxes on the corporations that benefit from the skilled workforce universities provide. Students should also be supported during their time at university – both academically and financially – so that they can make the most of their education and so that poor students aren’t disadvantaged as they are in the current system. But while these solutions might be obvious, they won’t be a reality because the run counter to the logic of profit-obsessed capitalism.
To defend ourselves against these attacks, and to push for more funding and better student welfare, we’ll need an uncompromising campaign against the Liberals’ attacks as well as the attacks on students carried out by university administrations at the local level. We’ll need campus student unions and the National Union of Students to adopt an activist orientation, and to commit to mobilising as many students as possible in defence of their rights. We’ll need a combative political strategy, as hostile to the Liberals and bosses as they are to us. The first small step in this direction is the national student protest against Tehan’s reforms on 28 August. Details can be found here.
The Productivity Commission’s interim report into Australian schools confirms what those of us working in the system have known for years: the education gap is widening for students from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds, students are falling behind their international peers, and teachers are overworked and underpaid.
Workers’ living standards are being pushed down as capitalists raise prices and hold down wages. While the wages share of national income is the lowest on record, corporate profits are at their highest. Big companies, especially the energy giants, are profiteering from a global supply shortage by jacking up their prices to take more money out of workers’ pockets and put it in their own.
“Jack Charles is Up and Fighting” is the title of one of Uncle Jack Charles’ early shows for the Indigenous Theatre Group, Nindethana, and it sums up his life. An actor, musician, potter, activist, proud gay man, this Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung, Palawa and Yorta Yorta elder was, as actor and director Rachel Maza put it, “a shining, vibrant celebration of life”.
It is ironic that almost every major figure and institution of Australian capitalism has led an outpouring of veneration for one of the last vestiges of feudalism: a hereditary monarch, whose status as the sovereign is subject to fewer challenges than is Kim Jong-un’s rule in North Korea, and whose position, through birthright, gives it control of a series of economically unproductive and taxpayer-funded landed estates.
It has been variously described as smelling like off ham, burning plastic and chemicals. Officially, it produces “a strong odour with wet paper and sweet fermented characteristics”, in the words of an odour engineer from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). People who live near it report experiencing headaches, sinus problems and skin irritation because of the unrelenting stench.
Aishwarya Aswath was 7 years old when she was carried by her father into the emergency department at Perth Children’s Hospital. She had a high temperature, her hands were cold, her eyes were cloudy and her body was floppy. Despite her parents’ efforts, for 90 minutes she received only sporadic attention from nurses, clerks and doctors. Three hours after entering the emergency department, Aishwarya went into cardiac arrest. Her death was avoidable.