Twirling towards freedom

Bad education

The new Education Minister has been the subject of some rigorous schoolyard bullying this week, as his plan to reintroduce a cap on university places has been met with a resounding chorus of ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’ Just two months ago, Christopher Pyne assured 7.30 that, “We have no plans to restore the cap. We do believe that the more students who are doing university, the better.” Pyne insists that he is no reneging on that promise, but has now ordered a review because he says there is evidence to suggest that “quality is suffering to achieve quantity.” The new Education Minister is certainly warming to his new role. After all, what better advocate for the inbred, elite nepotism fostered by Abbott’s band of private schoolboys than Christopher Pyne? 

“You must be living in a bubble ... if you think that there is not an issue in universities about whether there are quality issues about the extraordinary number of students being enrolled,” Pyne told ABC Local Radio this week. Those of us not soothed by Bubble Boy Pyne’s rhetoric that ‘quality is our watchword’ will have a number of issues with his plans, namely the reprisal of entrenched access to education. Labor abolished the cap in 2007 to boost access to higher education, especially for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s unlikely that a move to place higher education further out of reach for disadvantaged people will, as Pyne suggests, improve our international reputation. 

Pyne has also suggested that voluntary student union fees will be scrapped, although as both he and Abbott have suggested, it is not a priority for the government. Student union fees go towards a whole host of student services from second-hand campus bookstores to weekly barbeques, but when John Howard pushed through voluntary student unionism in 2004 it was campus radio stations, newspapers and television news that were the first services to shut down. The Coalition firmly told us last week that we’ve seen the end of Labor’s “shipping news service,” which is just as well, because the next generation of journalists are going to be denied the opportunity to practice their craft while still at university. No news is, at least in this instance, good news. 

These educations reforms aren’t a surprising move for the Coalition, but they are cunning ones.  

By keeping the pool from which our future leaders and thinkers are drawn from deliberately small and privileged, it will be more difficult for young people from migrant families to work their way into a position where they’ll have a real opportunity to influence policy and popular thought on issues like asylum seekers. The government is closing the ranks from which they will draw not only future Young Liberals, but future academics, health care professionals, legal advocates and human services workers. 

After all, as Pyne himself said, “It would be wrong of the universities and the Commonwealth Government to simply be training people for careers that don't exist.” Non-existent careers like Climate Change Commissioners, female cabinet ministers, NBN technicians, and it’s only week 2 of Abbott’s government.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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