Higher Education

  In Wyndham, the last census tells us that only 35 per cent of adults had a post school qualification and, of that, there were just over 27,000 people with a qualification. Almost 11,000 were for a certificate level, while    16,000 were for a diploma, degree, master or doctorate. The average for Australia is almost 60 per cent. You can see there that in Lalor we need access to higher education for our young people.

The electorate was benefitting from Labor's changes to the higher education system. They were changes that resulted in an extra 190,000 extra Australians in the system. Many of them were from my community and were often the first in their family to attend university or TAFE. We were proud that we were elevating potential wherever it was found, rather than that being reserved to those with means.

Labor has always argued that access to higher education is the door to opportunity for individuals and the nation. Before the last election, the now Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, promised no cuts to education, and Minister Pyne said there would be no changes to higher education. And yet here we are, with the Abbott government's changes to the higher education space in the parliament this week. These changes include a 20 per cent cut to funding to universities. Universities are being forced to increase fees to cover that loss and are having caps lifted, which may see the costs soar. On top of that, the changes threaten the social contract around student debt being affordable, with talk of $100,000 degrees and changes to interest rates that will change people's life decisions.

I believe that only ability and hard work, not the income of students or their families, should determine who is able to obtain a university education. I also believe that it is not enough to enrol a young person. We must ensure they succeed. This relies on quality and excellence in the system. Too often, I hear dreadful stories about the lack of support that students experience when seeking assistance from lecturers and tutors. I hear stories of signs on the tutor's door that say, 'Not in today'. And that can be repeated for weeks. Many of these tutors and lecturers are on short-term contracts, often with no extra student-support time.

Under this government, universities face a 20 per cent cut in their funding. Universities will have to compensate for cuts by using their new power to set their own fees or the quality will be lowered. There will be less preparation, marking and support time for staff. There will be pressure to pass students who have paid large sums of money. There will be less spent on campus services. What gains are there for a young person to proudly obtain a university place if that means that a lower quality education is served-up? And the kids in Lalor will baulk at embarking on a degree that will be double or triple in cost. They will not want to start their working lives with a $100,000 debt.

It is not just the university sector that has been hit by the Liberals. In Victoria, the Liberal government has slashed TAFE funding. A report today from the Standing Committee on Education and Employment has identified significant issues facing the TAFE system. For a long time, the quality of TAFE has been paramount. The Australian public wants a public provider of vocational education and training. In recent meeting with apprentices, I heard that many valued the TAFE system over private providers. They see private providers as lax, with little interest in student outcomes.

The report today recommends that the value of TAFE be recognised by the government and that its future be strengthened by federal expenditure. It also outlines the importance of working with the state and territory governments to ensure quality provision. This will not be a problem in Victoria if it elects a state Labor government on Saturday, as Daniel Andrews and his team have shown they are ready to commit to this.

I call on this government to honour its promises of no cuts to education and no changes to higher education. I call on the government to get off the education wrecking ball at a time when youth unemployment rising.

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