Editorial: Job-focused universities will only hurt Australia

The 'Jobs-Ready Graduates' Package undermines the freedom and purpose of universities

More so than any other realm of life, university is the place in which any one of us can try something new, meet people we’d never usually befriend, throw out opinions and arguments in a comfortable environment, or attempt to reconcile paying $4.50 for a coffee three mornings a week with our disdain for capitalism. It is the place in which any person is able to freely build their knowledge and skills, allowing them to engage with the surrounding world in a different way to how they might without their experience of university. While most of us may see this freedom as an important aspect of anyone’s life – especially that of young people – the Federal Government has decided too much freedom is a bad thing. 

Despite significant financial losses at universities across the country, the Goverment’s ‘Job-Ready Graduates’ bill – recently passed in Parliament – is a ham-fisted effort to resolve Australia’s economic and employment situation by…kind of making it worse. 

WIthout boring you all to tears, the Jobs-Ready Graduates Package (JRGP) seeks to decrease the cost for courses where there is expected to be significant growth in job opportunities. These fields include teaching, nursing, science and health. While this is important, and offers university positions for up to 39,000 the JRGP is marred with pitfalls. In particular, while there are more university positions available within a handful of specific courses, the Government is increasing the student contribution while simultaneously decreasing the Government contribution in other, equally valuable course. With this bill Arts degrees will quickly become as expensive as Commerce and Law degrees. 

You cannot call it a choice when you simply aren’t giving students any other options

While Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan suggests that through this bill ‘Students will have more choice’, this is hardly the case given the amount of prospective students – the majority of which are younger people – who will change their studying and career plans when faced with a $45,000 Arts degree. Not only does this yet again tell the rest of the nation that the Arts doesn’t matter, it also completely rids any aspect of choice from students we really want attending university – such as those from First Nations or low-socio-ecoomic backgrounds. You cannot call it a choice when you simply aren’t giving students any other options. 

What’s worse is that this extraordinarily clumsy piece of legislation might not actually resolve the economic situation the Government is so worried about. As noted by John Buchanan of the University of Sydney, there are still significant – potentially up to $27 million – estimated financial shortfalls even in ‘job-ready’ domains such as science, engineering, medicine and health. These cost of these courses, which are more expensive to deliver, will not be off-sest by the extra fees paid by Arts and humanities students. 

Government and universities have quite the opportunity to restore and enhance the quality of Australia’s tertiary education and research landscape

The National Union of Students has stated very clearly that ‘universities are not job factories’, but there is no doubt that this Bill, and the discourse and opinion that has ultimately led to its creation and passing as legislation, are by-products of greater corporatisation of Australian universities. Further, this Bill is seemingly supported by the false notion that the express purpose of universities is to abide by the whims of the Government of the day, regardless of what may be left behind. Such an approach seems especially ill-timed, ill-informed, and generally a bit dickheady given the significant funding and job losses so many universities have faced this year. 

Given the nonsense this year has presented us with, it is clear that the Government and universities have quite the opportunity to restore and enhance the quality of Australia’s tertiary education and research landscape. While it might be poetic or inspiring to demand that they not waste this opportunity, it seems like they saw this opportunity, and decided to appease their own interests first. 

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