What does the future hold for Australian Universities?

Part 3.

As much as Australian universities will proclaim their unwavering support to their own citizens, and deny such accusations that International students are now the priority, universities have become a business and a business will always side with whoever can provide them with the most money, in this case; international students.

International students get charged more, a considerable amount more, sometimes two or three times as much, and do not have the luxury of selecting the HECS-HELP option, its payment upfront or education denied. I mentioned in the first article that exported-education generates $28 billion for the economy. That is all profit, whereas domestic students have accumulated $54 billion in debt which is rising faster than it’s being paid back.

So what does this mean for domestic students in the future? If there are only a limited number of positions in each class, yet an international student can be charged at two or three times the rate a domestic student can, and if profit is the primary motivator, who do you think will be given priority?

Already the level of academic integrity is shrinking. Once university applicants had to prove their intelligence and a desire to learn. It was a hard but fair system. Now international students – some who can barely form a complete sentence in English are being passed in a subject that a domestic student would fail immediately had they shown such poor grammar, spelling and punctuation. But it’s not about the quality of the education anymore, it’s about keeping you enrolled for as long as possible to charge you for as much money as possible.

During my time at university, 8 credit point subjects were reduced to 6 credit point subjects with fewer assessments. I always believed that university would be a great challenge – and  although it did test my intelligence at times – I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable the coursework was. Even the relationship between teachers and students was dismal at best. Assignments were submitted online, and every course was practically completed via correspondence, regardless if studying on campus. Tutorials rarely ran their full length and all the information we needed could be completed online in our own time.

Reports of academics resigning are becoming more commonplace, in particular academics who have witnessed the changes take place from what universities once represented to what they have become. And those who stay are rarely offered more than a yearly contract on casual rates. Full time employment over a lifetime is as rare as university integrity. Academics leave because the integrity has diminished, teachers are encouraged to pass students, even if they are not pass worthy to ensure they continue to study and continue to pay their fees; regardless of their level of intelligence or motivation. During my time at university I noticed the same lecture material being presented in completely different subjects within my major field of study. When I enquired as to why it was being used, my lecturer explained the conditions in which he had to work, claiming that staff cutbacks had resulted in him being over worked in his current position with no spare time to research anything new, or compile more up to date lecture material. In some cases I had first year PhD students – people who had only been studying a couple of years more than I had – teaching a class of 30 students, and at times, were as new to a topic as I was. For some reason, it had become acceptable to allow students to teach students.

I also noticed how the university system operated like a scene from George Orwell’s 1984. Whenever I sought help from university staff, my enquiries always ended back where I started. I was never able to enquire beyond the bottom level of information. I just had to follow the system, and the rules. If I asked person A for advice, they would refer me to person B, who would send me to person C, who would then send me back to Person A.

The push for complete privatisation is obvious, and if fees continue to rise then there will be a return to universities being something of an esoteric world just as it was prior to Gough Whitlam’s intervention in the 1970s. However, this time around the wealthiest universities will hire the best academics and charge the highest rates and the only people who will able to attend will consist of a small minority of rich Australians and the rest will comprise of international students who have to pay exuberant study fees. I’m not an economist, but it doesn’t take a economist to see that the tertiary education system in Australia can’t continue operating the way it is.