Last week the University Council voted to raise fees for next year by 3%—the maximum allowed by Government. I spoke and voted against the decision.
The increase will add an extra $3.9 million dollars to the collective loan balances of Victoria students. It means that students starting a Bachelor’s degree next year will graduate with $22,000 of debt from course fees and compulsory levies alone.
On this trajectory, the cost of study in five years time will be 40% more than it was five years ago.
The argument is made that we need to increase fees to hold steady given the lack of government funding and increasing costs faced by the university. This is true to an extent.
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Being an Excel-loving science student, I collated the last ten years of government tertiary budgets, and adjusted for inflation, on a per student student basis, the government SAC funding has slowly declined. This decline has been offset by student fees to keep the total size of the pie about the same.
However, as of 2013, a divergence has started to occur. The compounding effect of perpetual fee increases has meant that the overall pie is increasing well ahead of inflation. Universities like Victoria are no longer just holding steady, but are profiting off increasing student debt.
This increase comes while there is a perception that quality isn’t increasing. We don’t have a comprehensive measure that means we know, as students, that we’re getting quality teaching and learning for the fees we pay. The university raises fees simply because it knows it can.
The way tertiary funding works in New Zealand is a flawed system which perpetuates fee rises, leads to more debt for students—reaching a total $15bn last year, underfunded academics, and universities spending huge amounts of time and money spent on marketing against each other to attract a limited pool of potential students.
As a university we should be actively working on fixing how higher education is funded to ensure it is accessible to everyone, provides quality learning and teaching, and provocatively supports students to succeed and contribute to society.
When we suggested we work more proactively on this at the meeting last week, the Vice Chancellor responded by saying that Universities New Zealand was working to lobby the government to essentially remove the fees maxima so universities can charge what they like.
That simple approach will only led to higher levels of debt. We need to look more broadly than that. In the meantime, we need to push the University to be more transparent and ensure it’s spending our money on improving quality.