Cuts, cuts, cuts. Should we really be surprised? We are in the depths of Australia’s first recession in 30 years and will continue to battle the impacts of COVID-19 for years to come. However, Australia’s education sector is being hit particularly hard, and the poor management from Universities in the past is starting to negatively transform the future of thousands of students.
Macquarie University announced this week that courses will soon have to meet a viability score and efficiency metric to survive, with the ultimate aim of reducing available units to make the university smaller and more financially sustainable. The number of units available for a degree will increase with each group of 50 undergraduate enrolments, and all majors must have 50 enrolments to remain viable.
Although the specific units which will be cut are yet to be released, it is likely that many science and engineering courses such as the Bachelor of Advanced Science and Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences may be removed. Moreover, many Arts and Science majors could also be cut if they fail to meet the Universities criteria.
I don’t want to speak further about the specifics of these changes. Many are still unknown, and a lot of the current commentary is purely guesswork.
However, these changes are concerning, and we need to talk about it. This is not just a problem that Macquarie University is facing, Monash University and other universities in Australia will also be attempting to find solutions to their immense debt.
Firstly, universities need to re-consider all their available options. Course cuts must be a last resort. It removes flexibility and choice for students, it can impact students who are already studying a specific degree, and it limits the opportunity of students to explore different areas of study. I understand if a university doesn’t want to create any new degrees or units but removing degrees or units will significantly impact some students and that must be avoided.
What is the government doing? Currently, they are attempting to pass a higher education reform bill through the senate. This bill has severe flaws. A new 10% discount for students who pay upfront fees is a feature of the bill which substantially favours high-income individuals. Furthermore, the bill also proposes cutting off students’ access to government-subsidised places and HELP loans if they fail 50% of their first-year subjects. Also, the bill proposes a major restricting of university funding by increasing the cost of humanities subjects by 113% and decreasing the costs of STEM, nursing, and teaching courses.
This new reform is supposed to deliver 100,00 extra university places by 2030, but this is highly disputed. If you are a low-income individual wanting to study in the Arts faculty, the government is doing everything it can to stop you studying that degree. The government is not supporting students, and that is only exacerbating the current issue of course cuts. There is a glimmer of hope. The budget, which will be formally announced next week, is set to include funding for the higher education sector. I hope this funding can be a much-needed relief for universities and can allow them to consider other alternatives to course cuts.
This is an evolving issue, and over the coming months, I guarantee we will witness more students protesting the proposed changes. The university is in a tricky position. Their guaranteed income provided by international students has been eliminated this year, and they have to find a long-term solution to climb out of debt. It’s not surprising that course cuts are occurring and it’s not surprising that students are protesting against it. Students in Australia spend thousands of dollars for tertiary study, and there is an appropriate expectation that the money is spent to provide a complete, robust and personal education experience.
My hope is that all universities are 100% transparent on any changes that may occur. The staff need to know, and the students need to know.
We must fight to protect tertiary education for all students in Australia. But, with an understanding of what’s going on in the world at the moment.