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Issue #1921      June 29, 2020

Editorial

Arts and humanities suffer under new government plan

Two weeks ago, education minister Dan Tehan announced that the Morrison government would double student fees for courses in the arts and humanities, as well as in commerce and law. The alarming hike in student fees comes as the government intends to lower the costs for STEM degrees.

Tehan also announced that an extra 39,000 university places for Australian students would be funded by 2023.

While this may sound like the government is contributing more to our education system, they are actually contributing less. The Commonwealth currently contributes fifty-eight per cent to the financial cost of degrees which will drop to fifty-two per cent under the new overhaul. Not surprising, students will be forced to pick up the slack as student contributions to university degrees will be raised from forty-two per cent to forty-eight per cent. Additionally, those extra placements come at no cost to the government. According to the ABC, Tehan plans for “the cost of the extra places [to] be borne by student fees.”

What is the logic behind this move? According to the ABC “the government says its priorities have been defined by pre-pandemic modelling showing [sixty-two] per cent of employment growth in the next five years will be in health care, science and technology, education, and construction.”

There is no doubt that these sectors will grow in the next five years. However, the question left lingering is this: does our government have “priorities” in increasing the employment growth in these sectors?

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “the 2015 staffing cap on the public service has left the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) unable to keep up with the demands of its own scientific projects.”

As a result, CSIRO, our chief scientific agency, has been unable to hire recent graduates directly and instead as had to increase the number of external contracts “which [are] costly for taxpayers and fails to offer secure employment.”

According to public think tank Percapita in its submission to the Senate, “The latest budget was relatively sparse on scientific investment with [...] just over $45 million over the next three years” to be spent “on the industry, innovation and science portfolio.” Most of which ($31 million) was front-loaded for the 2019-20 financial year.

This underinvestment has led many of our recent graduates to find employment overseas in such countries as Germany.

Does this sound like a government concerned with increasing employment? Hardly.

Furthermore, the devaluing of the arts and humanities is nothing new. Right-wing ministers and governments have always taken umbrage with the education delivered at our universities, and one doesn’t have to look far to see the phrase “Marxist indoctrination” when it comes to claims that students are being brainwashed. While their claim that students are trained to be communists is absurd, it reflects a level of understanding of what is taught in these faculties. Many of these fields deal with the study of society’s most maligned: women, LGBT+, and people of colour. In a lot of instances, these fields highlight society’s historical and on-going oppression of these people, mostly without a Marxist perspective. In fields such as philosophy, critical thinking skills are developed, which allow students to challenge our understanding of the world.

Knowledge is power. Education is the means by which we acquire it. By systemically destroying these areas of study with unacceptable fees, our government is attempting to deny access to knowledge that will ultimately challenge its hegemony.

Next article – ACTU calls on COVID Senate Inquiry to support paid pandemic leave

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