Federal Government Uni Fee Hike Ill-Founded, Unfair & Discriminatory

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B&T Magazine
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In this opinion piece, Leigh McClusky (pictured below) – National President, Public Relations Institute of Australia, argues the case for a ‘fair go’ for the class of 2020 amid the federal government’s uni fee hike…

As the world has been left punch drunk by the global impacts of Covid-19, the role of clear and compelling communication has never been more important.

Communicating the clear and present danger of the pandemic, communicating the appropriate behaviours and systems to avert further outbreaks, communicating the options for communities and businesses to work their way through some of the devastating challenges, and importantly, communicating the vital messages of hope and resilience, that there will one day, be an end to these dark days and we can turn our focus to recovery and rebuilding.

And these vital communication efforts need to reach everyone in our communities, regardless of location, social standing, education, ethnicity, or age.

If ever communication played a critical role in society, it is now. And in a world where confusion and uncertainty currently reigns, the importance of compassion and a fair go, is even more important.

So why does the Federal Government seem intent on taking a blunt knife to Australia’s university arts degrees, in a manner that will undoubtedly impact on the background and diversity of our future humanities students, including our communicators?

In June, Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan announced sweeping changes to Australia’s university fees, including those which will see the cost of public relations and communications qualifications, more than double.

Many humanities courses across the board will also be impacted by unjustifiable fee hikes, that will simply take away any choice for some students to pursue them.

As if our Year 12 students across the nation haven’t had enough to deal with in 2020, with pandemic lockdowns, remote learning and never-ending conjecture about how their study efforts will be assessed, now the Government wants to force them into ‘its’ choices of university courses.

For the Class of 2020, that is just not fair or reasonable.

When it made its announcement, the Government trumpeted that its focus was on ‘job relevant’ courses, so the clear implication is that in the Government’s eyes, arts degrees do not deliver graduates who are ‘job relevant’. 

We disagree most strongly and cannot let these proposed changes go unchallenged and so, the Public Relations Institute of Australia has driven the formation of the new Australian Communications Advocacy Group (ACAG).

Joining forces with leading communication groups International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2 Australasia), ACAG’s role is to highlight, challenge and ultimately convince the Morrison Government to rethink and abandon these proposed changes.

And while as a group, our core interests are those students who want to pursue communications related degrees, we’re also fighting for everyone in the Class of 2020, who deserves a fair go.

Why shouldn’t every young person have the option of choosing to be a teacher, or a mental health worker, or whatever it might be that they have a passion for? How fair is it, how Australian is it, when the Government seems intent on using increased fees as its big stick to dictate who can study, what?

Under its Jobs Ready Graduate Package, the Federal Government has flagged a 91.9 per cent cut in its contribution to Communications degrees, the biggest decrease to any of the university disciplines.  

These students – if they can now afford to even contemplate these courses – will face a massive 113 per cent increase, with potential communications students facing a $14,500 bill each year, up from the current level of $6,804.

It is true that our communicators come from many walks of life and have many different educational backgrounds and as a broad sector, we are stronger for it. But for many of our communicators, the front door to their careers, the initial path that encouraged them to develop their communications skills, along with their critical and analytical thinking, has been an arts-based degree.

We clearly understand the need to stimulate employment in the Covid-19 environment, but herding university students into degrees they may neither like, nor have any aptitude for, is counter-intuitive.

To suggest that communication degrees – indeed the broad swathe of humanities degrees – are not useful, is simply wrong and uninformed.

The Deloitte Access Economics – Report, The Value of the Humanities, from October 2018 found there are ‘economy-wide benefits received from the participation of Humanities graduates in the workforce’.

According to the report ‘Some of the big public policy challenges facing Australia… such as climate change, obesity, and indigenous disadvantage, require innovative solutions. These solutions are likely to be developed by multidisciplinary teams that understand human behaviour and can connect with people. Humanities graduates play important roles in these teams.’

While the Federal Government has an earnest commitment to boosting the nation’s STEM focus as a key strength of creating jobs and opportunities, we would argue that it isn’t the only strength we need, and it takes more than just the sciences to deliver a balanced economy and society.

As the President of global IT giant Infosys, Mohit Joshi wrote earlier this year, ‘While technology companies will always need talent with STEM skills … to get the best of the both worlds, organisations need to inculcate skills such as creative thinking and cognitive flexibility into their engineers and architects — while hiring artists, lawyers, marketers and economists to offer new perspectives that can maximise innovation and growth in an industry that thrives when it’s intellectually diverse.’

Pushing would-be graduates into STEM courses, rather than the humanities, with the unsophisticated carrot of fire sale price fees is unfair, unwarranted, discriminatory and will do little to develop and support the intellectual diversity that Australia needs now, more than ever.

To push home our message to Minister Tehan and his parliamentary colleagues, ACAG now needs your help with our nationwide campaign.

With our initial focus on the communication sector, we need to undertake an unprecedented research effort to understand the educational qualifications, experience, and opportunities in our industry. This survey has been completed by hundreds of communicators, but we need more responses to understand the true shape of our industry.

You can complete the six question survey here from a mobile device or your desktop and it will only take a few minutes of your time.

We’re also building a national library of case studies of the impact of communications. If you have helped manage communications with bushfire affected communities, helped communicate public health messages or helped our community, we’d love to hear from you and share your story with a wider audience.

And ACAG is also looking for campaign volunteers. Whether you’re a content expert, a creative designer, a media relations practitioner, we could use your talents. Just email us at info@acag.net.au.

Put simply, university fee price hikes designed to unfairly target humanities courses discriminate against all, but the most financially well-heeled who can afford to dig deep to pursue a passion, rather than opt to be pushed into a course and career they may not want, because it’s the only course they can afford.

For the sake of the Class of 2020 and all who will follow them, we cannot sit by and let this happen.

 

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