Thursday, 19 April 2012

Group of Eight proposes to scrap contributions cap

The national Group of Eight (Go8) lobby, which makes representations to the government on behalf of Australia’s most prestigious universities, last year released a paper (or ‘Policy Note’) suggesting the government cap on individual student contributions be scrapped.
The report noted that students whose parents paid to put them through independent schooling in the hope of increasing their chances to get into university “benefit disproportionately from public subsidies” and concludes that parents are “unable to contribute more to the cost of their education, although in many cases they would be willing and able to do so.” 
An increase in individual student contributions may free up government money which, in light of the recent policy change allowing a theoretically infinite number of students to enrol, universities claim is desperately needed. Seeming to anticipate this shift, the government was urged by the 2008 Bradley Review of Higher Education to provide a 10% per student increase in funding to universities. Mike Teece, the Director of Policy at the Go8, said the government had conveyed to him that “the cupboard is bare,” partly due to the governments’ insistence on returning to surplus in the next financial year. 

While declining to give his opinion on student contributions, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis told Farrago: “We have to be cautious about imposing high taxes to support higher education on lower income Australians who don’t get the direct benefits of higher education. There is a case for public support, but it must be sensitive to the private benefits of higher education.”

Anxieties about the egalitarian nature of publicly subsidised tertiary education were high on the minds of students we approached. These concerns are predicated on universities providing some sort of incentive for parents, who despite their wealth may be unwilling to increase their level of contribution. 

Sebastian, a first year Bachelor of Arts student who attended private school “as a family tradition thing” despite an average single-parent income, said: “It’s a slippery slope – next thing rich families might be able to pay out the uni so their kids can attend. Where do you draw the line? I think everyone should pay the same amount, so it’s equal.”

This concern was shared by Jared, who while relaxing on the South Lawn hypothesised: “I can just imagine people would be allowed to have certain things that the rest of us couldn’t because they would be willing to pay the extra money, kind of snowballing … into some sort of elite class.” 

“In a lot of countries what happens is if you are paying more tuition fees … the government in return gives you tax benefits,” explained Shantanu, a Masters of Development Studies student from India. Shantanu also made the point: “The money that [parents] spend, when they give more fees, will be used for their own children’s benefit, in terms of more infrastructure in college and university."

Amardeep, also from India, proposed: “The money [government] saved can go to more scholarships, and maybe those students who actually can’t afford it, their fees can be reduced because of that.”

These ideas would undoubtedly draw ire from those who see it as invoking redistribution of private wealth. 

The Department of Innovation, which deals with tertiary education, did not respond before deadline.

This article was originally published in Farrago.

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