I believe it is of great importance that we preserve the public charter of our tertiary sector and that it is sufficiently supported by public funding. Current proposals to deregulate university fees would reduce federal commitment to supporting universities financially and thereby diminish universities as public institutions.
Most importantly, if fees are deregulated, there are major issues of concern for the education faculties within our universities. These are the faculties that train our nation’s teachers. I want to air these issues and would love to see some public debate around them.
Education is an essential public work, clearly designed to benefit community and nation rather than just directed towards the increased prosperity and status of individual graduates.
The federal propaganda describing its rationale for fee increases misrepresents the case of individual benefit from university degrees. Supposedly students should pay higher fees because they are the ones who benefit.
So it is important to set the record straight about the personal, and in particular the financial, benefits of getting a degree, especially a degree in education. Some decades ago when University was the privilege of less than 5% of the population it was true that graduates were able to attract greater incomes than non-graduates. However this was hardly ever true for education degrees.
In current times the situation of graduates receiving higher incomes is even less clear. With a significantly larger proportion of young people attending, university income differentials are more closely related to what you studied, where you studied and when you graduated.
Education graduates, the majority of whom find jobs as schoolteachers, are rarely among the high earners.
We already have evidence to support the claim that students are not coming to careers in education for the financial rewards. These students are not recognized in the current politicised representation of why you go to university.
In addition, in the current cash strapped university, education faculties have been required to accept increasingly large numbers of students as the whole university funding depends on filling quotas and it is relatively cheap to educate future teachers.
So any negativity directed at education faculties for accepting low entry scores should really be aimed at the current funding system. I believe this will only get worse if fees are deregulated.
Education faculties are frequently pushed to take in the maximum number of students by university management. Somehow education continues as the poor relation within the university as the faculty functions as ‘the cash cow’ with constantly large enrolments requiring relatively low cost resources, but so often with little representation in senior management.
And yet the work the university teachers of teachers do is so evidently in the public interest. Not only do they undertake the essential role of preparing the nation’s teachers, they are also responsible for the development of future citizens. Schooling has a unique capacity for community building at all social levels.
Schools Australia-wide have been recognized for their achievements in working with multicultural students to build a sense of belonging and common purpose along with responsible community membership. And yet, despite this ongoing essential work, education becomes the whipping post for public criticism far more often than other university courses.
The life of an education graduate contrasts fundamentally with the current government’s adherence to the depiction of university as the training ground for a life of social and economic privilege. The fact that students continue to want to teach is one indication of the value they place in contributing to the public good and following their dream of leading a meaningful and productive life.
Like many others who are working, or have worked, in our universities preparing students to undertake a career in teaching, I am worried about the future for all Australians if fees increase for education degrees and if universities need to rely even more on their education faculties to bring in the cash.
I believe that eroding the public charter of our universities will have a great and negative effect, most particularly on the education of our nation’s teachers.
Judith Gill PhD is currently an Adjunct A/Professor in the School of Education at the University of South Australia where she worked for 25 years in teacher education. She has a longstanding interest in gender, work and education, particularly in terms of gender contexts of learning, which has involved investigating the experience of students in single sex school compared with coeducation, leading to the book Beyond the Great Divide: Single sex schooling or coeducation? (Sydney, UNSW Press 2004). Another line of enquiry is citizenship education as in the 2009 book Knowing Our Place: Children talking about identity, power and citizenship. (Routledge NY). More recently she has investigated engineering education, as seen in Gender Inclusive Engineering Education (NY Routledge 2009) and Challenging Knowledge, Sex and Power: Gender, work and engineering (NY Routledge 2014)