Education? In This Economy?

Welcome to the 2024 academic year, and more importantly to the institution, which is supposed to serve you with quality education, equivalent to the amount we pay. 

Except it doesn’t. Now, more than ever, universities are shifting towards an increasingly privatised model that cares little for the standard of education it delivers.  

Historically, university and access to education has long served as a barrier to divide the ruling class from those below them. Today, although there have been advancements in access, particularly for historically disenfranchised groups like women, universities remain a ground for profit making and division. Instead of setting out to deliver students with the education that will set future generations up for success, universities function to line the pockets of those who head them up. 

Intriguingly enough, this hasn’t been consistent throughout Australian history. When the Whitlam government abolished university fees in 1974, we saw an increase in female and/or working-class students seeking higher education. But by 1989, the introduction of HECs fees changed this. Further still, Australian universities have grown increasingly privatised. 

Why? This is not a problem exclusive to Monash University. From the abolition of free university education in 1989, universities have increasingly stipulated high fees from students and education has suffered from a lack of public funding.  

Monash, and indeed other universities in Australia are no exception to this. In 2020 universities recorded profits of 5.3 billion while students remained at home dealing with the hardships of the global pandemic.  Then again in 2021 Monash University recorded the third highest surplus of $300 million, closely following Melbourne University ($600 million surplus) and University of Sydney ($1 billion surplus).

These numbers are meaningless without considering what this means for you as students. On average we can pay anywhere between $20,000 to $45,000 per year. This does not include the added costs required to study – textbooks, equipment, added bills, and daily needs. 

International students, and those studying humanities degrees like law, are particularly subjected to high fees and costs. Under the Jobs Ready Graduates Package, introduced by the Morrison government in 2021, students were increasingly pushed towards degrees and hence careers that matched ‘labour market demand’ and away from those, particularly in the humanities (excluding languages). 

The wrong assumption that students should alter their study to fit what will make them most employable disadvantages students who already must sacrifice interests and personal time to care for themselves. 

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief either STEM students, while our fees are often lower than those of the artistic and humanitarian inclination, declining standards in education and poor staff conditions haven’t seen us benefit from the lack of public funding in universities. 

So Australian universities did not rush to improve the lives of their students and teaching staff during a global pandemic, and they certainly are not doing so now, when the climate so desperately requires it. With the cost-of-living crisis, many students are doing it tough, footing bills, studies, work, and their own personal needs. 

Universities, ultimately do not care if you fail. They do not care if your education suffers at the hands of corporate greed.  A failed class means yet another student taking a unit, and yet more income. An overworked staff member unable to balance their own lives with effectively teaching content means nothing to the hegemony of the university. And most of all, inadequate education is of no concern to those making millions in profit. 

So, as an associate of mine quipped to me, ‘Welcome back to this meaningless cash grab where we lock your career behind exams that finish at 9 pm’.

Sasha Braybrooke

The author Sasha Braybrooke

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