June 25, 2003


Graduate Tim Watts confesses:

Hello. My name is Tim and I'm a middle-class welfare recipient.

It's not an easy thing to own up to, but I can now admit it: Australian taxpayers subsidised more than 70 per cent of the cost of my tertiary education.

Even though I'm now out earning more than $60,000 a year, I will never pay back a cent of the cost of my tertiary education.

Under federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson's new plan for funding the tertiary education sector, this form of middle-class welfare will be substantially cut back. This is a good thing.

A lively response in The Age’s letters pages is predicted.

Posted by Tim Blair at June 25, 2003 01:59 PM | TrackBack

I've had so many heated arguments with the offspring of seriously well-off parents about how disgusting it is that tertiary education is not totally free. But if you've ever tried to pull a baby off the teat you won't be surprised.

Posted by: PJ at June 25, 2003 02:06 PM

This one has disappointed me a little. I am really hoping that Tim is not going to turn out to be one of the pre-fabricated conservatives that follow the well-worn old views.
The attempt by Howard's government to eliminate (see: 'reform') HECS and shift Australia to an American-style system where the offspring of wealthy children are the only people to gain access to quality universities is unacceptable. It is the institutionalized ongoing regeneration of a ruling class elite.

Posted by: Mike at June 25, 2003 02:24 PM

your comments dissapointed me a lot.

Tim is certainly not a hardcore conservative; to conceed so much to arguments of positive externalities is act a bit wet in my opinion....

However, that aside, the government is actually increasing the HECS system.
Secondly, your points about US universities are just plain wrong. US universities are not exclusively patronised by offspring of wealthy. Many of the most prestigeous institutions have quite a lot of their students on scholarships; MIT for example. And the robust, independent nature of the US schools is one of the reasons that they are among the best in the world.

But, hey, if you think Australians would be better to have middle income workers pay for the mediocre education of future high income professionals, whilst retarding the advancement of our centres or learning... then that's your opinion and you're fully entitled to it.


Posted by: Steve at June 25, 2003 02:32 PM

I don't want to try to speak for Tim, he speaks well enough without my help. If the direction PM Howard is pushing Australia is the American system (I'm American by way of full disclosure), it does not in any way ensure only the rich get access to educational funding. The American system that I went to school under provides grants and loans which are means tested (i.e., to qualify, your parents cannot make above a certain amount), in addition to numerous low interest loans which are available. Anyone in the US who *really* wants higher education can get it rather easily. I acheived my degree through a combination of low interest loans and a monthly military stipend since I joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps, but had many friends who did so with combinations of scholarships, loans and student jobs. All of these friends are (I think, not suprisingly) very successful people in their chosen careers. The system of universal free higher education is truly welfare for the sick, lame and lazy. Higher education is not a given birth right, but something of value to be earned. I think that might be an education in itself.

Posted by: rc at June 25, 2003 02:40 PM

I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be a Young Liberal plant, who only ends up damaging the good arguments that he makes.

Posted by: Mike Hunt at June 25, 2003 03:09 PM

...an American-style system where the offspring of wealthy children are the only people to gain access to quality universities...

Behold, lefty fuckwit opinion in all its glory; equal parts snarky condescension and risible ignorance.

A quick check of the US census (http://landview.census.gov/population/socdemo/school/ppl-148/tab10.txt) reveals the following:

In 2000, 15.3 million Americans were enrolled in college, 11 million at 4-year baccalaureate colleges. Of those, 14% (1.52 million) were black; disproportionately higher than black share of total US population (12%).

Referencing this 2001 Census Bureau report: http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p20-533.pdf

44% of high school graduates in the US age 18-24 are currently enrolled in college; 45% of whites, 39% of blacks, 61% of Asians, 32% of Hispanics. The lower % of hispanics is likely due to the fact that a large proportion of the US hispanic population is recent immigrants, and non-native English speakers. Roughly 70% of US high school graduates will attend some college by the time they are 30 years old, and this figure is remarkably consistent across ethnic categories.

I won't even attemp to explain the fact that American universities routinely give grants-in-aid, scholarships, work-study fellowships, etc. to underpriveleged students; not to mention the literally dozens of state and federal tuition aid programs (Pell grants, GSLs, Fulbright) and the fact that state university tuitions are subsidized at an average of 50%. By taxpayers who aren't smoking bongs in the dorm listening to Radiohead. The fact of the matter is this: everyone in the US, no matter how poor, has access to quality higher education.

Of course, you may have been referring specifically to 'quality universities', i.e., the 100 or so colleges in the US that would be top- ranked in Australia.

Posted by: iowahawk at June 25, 2003 03:55 PM

"....This is a good thing."

Of course it is.... once he got full value out of the system.

Posted by: PM at June 25, 2003 04:45 PM

What about all the graduates with masters in modern dance/fine arts/feminist psychology in relation to the current dominant paradigm/use of socialist theory in primitive cultures/etc etc who will never repay their HECS debt, because they will never get a bloody job?

Posted by: paul bickford at June 25, 2003 04:50 PM

I hope they print my letter.

Posted by: Robert at June 25, 2003 05:04 PM

What? Tim's making $60K a year and thinks he's not
going to pay back the cost of his education? Of
course he'll pay it back. If he stays out of
hospital and out of jail, he'll pay far more
tax before he dies than he'll ever get back in
government benefits.

Posted by: Bruce H. at June 25, 2003 05:12 PM

But he won't pay back any more than the guy on $60k/a who didn't go to uni.

The real question is, if 70% of High School Graduates attend some sort of college, what is the number for Australia. That will tell us which system is more inclusive.

Posted by: Patrick at June 25, 2003 06:40 PM

Mike - here's a research task for you: find out how the socio-economic mix of the student population at Australian universities changed as a result of the introduction of free tertiary education.

Based on your comments, you'd EXPECT to find that before it was introduced, there'd be very few students from working-class backgrounds, and then the proportion would grow significantly afterwards, wouldn't you . . . .?

(Yes, I know the answer to my question).

Posted by: Mork at June 25, 2003 07:00 PM

I know a guy who reckons he wont have to pay his HECS. Being the non-Uni sorta person I am, I don't know the rules, but he says that as long as he doesn't live in Australia he doesn't have to pay hex.

He's about to graduate with some degree or another (says he's a paleontologist) and already has a job teaching over in Japan. Bastard. He still claims to be right-wing. Even if he aint, he sure is funny when it comes to dealing with hippies.

Posted by: Ken at June 25, 2003 07:18 PM

Ken, you can't pay back HECS if you aren't earning money in Australia. You have to be a taxpayer before the government can get it from you. If he's working in a foreign country, he'll be paying his tax to them, not Australia.

The original article is not about HECS though.

HECS is just a contribution from the student, it's not the full cost of tuition. Even if you pay back every last cent of HECS owed, you've still been significantly funded by the taxpayer. How much you've been funded obviously depends on how much it cost to teach you. This varies between subjects and institutions.

Posted by: Yobbo at June 25, 2003 10:55 PM

Once we lowered entry standards for what we call 'university', it became impossible for the Government to fund places for all those who could now 'qualify' at these lower standards. Whichever direction Governments then took, it was going to create enormous funding problems. Simply calling for more taxpayers' money wasn't going to be the solution.

Posted by: Norman at June 25, 2003 11:37 PM

"Even though I'm now out earning more than $60,000 a year, I will never pay back a cent of the cost of my tertiary education."

What? The (new) repayment threshold is $30K, and the old one was less than that.

Posted by: Andjam at June 25, 2003 11:49 PM

A good friend of mine in the UK, the son of a Polish immigrant welder and an Irish immigrant cleaner, won a full government funded scholarship at Oxford University. About as "quality" as you can get. I, being the son of an immigrant Irish labourer, received full government funding to go to Salford University. Somewhat lower down the scale in terms of "quality".

This was certainly a wonderfully inclusive and accesible system. the only problem being that my mates far more expensive degree turned out to be bugger all use in the real world, and he had to go do different one in Birmingham before he could get a job.

The real issue is about the quality of the product. When universities are consistently turning out quality educations then give them all the funding they want.

Posted by: Dave at June 26, 2003 12:18 AM