Australian university students are looking at an 8 per cent fee increase between 2018- 2021
if the proposed Government 2017/18 budget is approved. On top of this, graduating students
will be expected to begin their debt repayments when they start to earn $42, 000 a year; that’s
$13,874 less than the current threshold.

A report by the Mitchell Institute on ‘Expenditure on education and training in Australia’ has shown
expenditure on schooling has grown about 40 per cent over the last 11 years, with
tertiary education, in particular, showing growth in HELP payment providers over the period 2008
to 2015 – from $3.3 billion to $6 billion.

Despite this overall funding growth, the report also showed, between 2010 and 2015, the average cost of gaining a degree had increased by 9.5 per cent per student. With the proposed budget cuts set to come into play, this is expected to rise for current and future university students.

While the government is proposing to spend an estimated $1 billion more on education than in the previous financial year, at closer look at where the money is going shows a rapid decline in funding for universities.

In 2014-2015, the government spent $4.4 billion on student assistance, and in 2016 we saw it’s first decline in three years, with it dropping to $4.1 billion. The estimated 2017 – 2018 expenditure will see it drop again to $4 billion. That’s a total loss of $411 million over four years and a decline of nine per cent.

Looking at the overall expenditure on higher education, there will be an expected $103 million decline in funding over the next financial year, despite the $400 million funding increase that occurred over 2014-2016.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said it is a balanced plan to bring the Federal Budget back into surplus.

“Students will face a small increase that on a weekly basis equates to about $17 for the highest level of fee increase that any students could possibly face,” he said.

“We have to make sure the [HECS] program is sustainable and we currently have about $52 billion of Government debt associated with student loans. On current estimates around one quarter of that will never be repaid.”

National Tertiary Education Union president Georgien Clarson said students are forced to pay more each year and get less back for it.

“The ironic thing is that once upon a time, University education was something that was funded by the taxpayers and it was considered something that was good for the nation as a whole,” he said.

“Now those very people, the politicians, who actually got free (university) education are making it more expensive for current students. They’re saying when a student gets a qualification its only something that benefits them personally.”