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Scholarships an Orwellian “tax on students”

The Australian    |     2 June 2014

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The government’s plan to fund its proposed Commonwealth scholarships from hiked fee revenue has been described by QUT’s equity director Mary Kelly as “a tax on students” and “Orwellian” by the NTEU.

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I keep waiting for someone to call it a levy or a tax, because that’s what it is. Students will have no option about paying it, and the tax-collectors (universities) will have no option about charging it.

The scholarship program is to be funded directly by $1 in every $5 of increased student fees and is being promoted as a means of preventing disadvantaged students from being priced out of expensive courses following the deregulation of fees.

Critics say the amount of money available for scholarships depends on how much universities raise fees, and it will all be paid for by students. It comes as the government is also scrapping the existing Start-up scholarships for low income students by making them repayable loans. These loans will  attract higher interest rate charges in line with the government changes to the HECS loan system.

The National Tertiary Education Union has also slammed the scholarships as a sham since students have to pay for them.  It said it was unfair making students subsidise their disadvantaged peers by having to borrow more money under the HECS system to cover higher fees. This is the equivalent of asking students to put the scholarships for disadvantaged student on their credit cards.

To call these ‘Commonwealth’ scholarships is indeed Orwellian not only because they will be collected and administered by individual universities, but because they are being funded directly out of the pockets of students in the form of higher fees…students are being asked to fund scholarships for their disadvantaged classmates by paying higher fees.

The Regional Universities Network is particularly concerned the Group of Eight universities, who are likely to have the most pricing power and so be able to offer the most scholarships, will end up using the scholarships to cherry pick the best disadvantaged students from the regions.

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