Dear Heads of the Schools of Social Work and Senior Academics
As you know, the enthusiasm of Vice Chancellors for the proposed “reforms” of higher education certainly does not reflect the views of many academics or students. These reforms will lead to the second poorest quartile of students subsidizing the poorest quartile. This is our government’s idea of equity. Are we really going to acquiesce to this without protest?
For the last 30 years neo-liberals have been nibbling away at public education. At the height of public funding of universities, the government paid over 90% of university costs. HECS opened the door to a user pays system. Public funding has now been reduced to less than 25%, with a lot of handwringing about what we can and can’t afford. But no amount of sophistry can disguise the fact the the end result is transferring money from the poor to the better off. Poorer students have been paying an increasingly high price for their access to university.
Universities have been privatised by stealth without any debate.
The Bradley Review signaled the end of capping student numbers. And a billion dollars later the government put the brakes on again.
Along the way we have exploited overseas students to cross subsidise our own, as well as creating a back door migration program.
And there have been other troubling consequences of the marketization of what we all once considered a public good. Some students now feel entitled to the degree that they are paying for, whether they reach the right standard or not. Plagiarism has become a problem, and students of lesser ability are not always offered the support that might help them over the line.
In the face of all this, your reaction has been to embark on a forlorn piece of lobbying to increase band funding of the social work degree to the level of other allied health professions. Which faculties do you imagine will surrender funds so that this might happen? Won’t the answer simply be that in a free market you raise your prices?
You need an economist (not a lobbyist) to find the truth to some simple questions. What is the real cost of teaching a social work student? What is the cost of delivering 1000 hours of placement? Who should pay for this? Are social work degrees operating at a loss? Or are they cross subsiding other activity? These questions are all within the free market paradigm- but you need to understand how the enemy is thinking.
Look to the United States to understand the full horror of increasing student debt in a for profit system. Christopher Pyne needs to be called out when he holds up the US system as ideal.
John Oliver’s satirical HBO talk show cut straight to the bone when discussing this issue. But the problem with satire, not matter how true, is that it comes from a place of cynicism and resignation.
I have looked in vain for a joint statement from social work academics calling for public funding of universities to be maintained. Our professional values surely oblige us to speak up. Other countries manage to have publicly funded universities. It can happen here.