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It doesn’t add up: uni funding overhaul will also hurt STEM students

Gareth Bryant comments in the Sydney Morning Herald (22.6.20) on the Morrison government’s proposed changes to higher education degree fee structures, which looks to load more of the financial burden of course costs onto students.

‘The federal government framed its sweeping changes to university funding as a reprioritisation from arts to sciences to support the “jobs of the future”. But the details tell a very different story. While the package punishes arts students, it also deprives universities of the resources they need to teach STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

‘The government has been rightly criticised for undervaluing the contribution of humanities and social sciences (HASS) to the modern workforce. This HASS v STEM debate played into the Coalition government’s hands because it meant the wider impact of the changes was missed.

‘It is not about HASS v STEM. There are in fact few winners in the government’s package. The plan only makes sense as an attempt to shift the overall cost of university education from governments to students.

‘Most university students will either pay more, or the universities they study at will receive less money for teaching them. The biggest fee hikes will be felt by HASS students. However, despite the rhetoric from federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, per-student revenue for universities in key STEM disciplines will actually decrease.’

If the government listened to business leaders, they would encourage humanities education, not pull funds from it

Susan Forde writes in The Conversation (22.6.20) that the federal government has more than doubled the cost of humanities degrees to encourage ‘job-ready’ graduates, but on flimsy evidence.

‘The federal government’s announcement they will more than double the cost of humanities and communications degrees for university students has taken the sector by surprise – not least because it goes against increasing evidence that these programs are the key to our nation’s future success.

‘If the government wants to support university courses that lead to jobs, they’d do well to listen to their business leaders who have been quite clear, in recent years, about the sorts of graduates they’re looking for.

‘Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, said in a 2016 speech all 21st century successful leaders would need “some form of humanities perspective and education”.

‘She said the humanities produce people who can “ask the right questions, think for themselves, explain what they think, and turn those ideas into actions”.

‘… If our purpose is to incentivise programs that lead to jobs, which will equip the nation for the future, and will elicit innovative and creative responses to complex problems, then we must encourage broad study in the humanities and social sciences.’

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