Op ed: uni students must share bigger burden

07 May 2014 Article

Originally published in the Daily Telegraph on 7 May 2014.

THE students who identified themselves as from the Socialist Alternative protesting on Monday night’s Q and A program highlight how important it is that all Australians hear the facts about higher education in Australia.

In anyone’s language university students get a good deal. Rather than closing down a television show, those protesting on Monday night should be turning up at the door of a hard-working family they know who don’t have a university education, giving them a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates and saying “thank you”.

Why? University graduates on average earn 75 per cent more than those Australians who don’t attend universities and have a less than 2.8 per cent unemployment rate.

So it’s great that in Australia we have one of the most generous university loan schemes in the world, where the taxpayer pays for the entire upfront cost of a degree and the student pays their share when they earn a decent wage.

It means that for those who want to, no matter what their background, obtaining a degree in their chosen field is attainable for all. Not many people realise the student only pays back around $4 in every $10 of the cost of their degree and only when they are earning more than $50,000 a year. Unfortunately, 20 per cent of students never repay their taxpayer loan. This generous system means 60 per cent of Australians who don’t have a university degree are paying for 60 per cent of the degrees of those who will go on to earn up to $1 million more than they will over a lifetime.

We’ve seen huge growth in the number of students attending university, which is good for Australia, but it is putting a strain on our ability to support so many students. As the number of students keeps growing the cost to taxpayers rises with it.

To keep it fair and sustainable we need to consider every option, including those who benefit the most from higher education starting to shoulder more of the burden for paying for it.

The current demand-driven system for university places, where a university can provide as many places for a course as they have demand for, only applies to Bachelor degrees in public universities and excludes such things are diplomas. The recent review of our higher education system, highlighted this unfair arrangement and recommended the government fix it. That’s what I intend to do; spread opportunity and make our universities sustainable.

Christopher Pyne is federal Education Minister.