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SEV opposes proposed increases in humanities fees

To advocate on behalf of our members across Victoria, SEV has issued a media release opposing the proposed changes to federal higher education funding that would see dramatic increases in fees for humanities subjects.

Click here for a PDF version of the media release. 

On behalf of its members and the wider community of humanities and related educators across Victorian primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions – SEV calls on the Federal Minister for Education, the Hon. Dan Tehan MP to reconsider the proposed price hikes on university humanities and creative arts subject fees. We strongly believe in the value of these subjects and reject the negative price signalling implied through the proposed increases.

SEV welcomes government efforts to increase domestic student enrolment in tertiary education and values the positive societal impact made by fields such as healthcare, agriculture, science, technology and others. However, SEV also considers the recently announced university student fee increases to humanities and related subjects to be unfair and counter-intuitive, as well as socially and culturally detrimental.

This proposal is unfair because fee increases send an unacceptable price signal that discourages studying humanities and related courses, in turn penalising young people, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and communities traditionally under-represented in tertiary education.

This suggests to students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, that there is little benefit in broadening their horizons and honing the very critical-thinking and complex problem-solving skills required to better analyse, assess and proactively transform the social, political, economic and cultural conditions around them.

The proposal is a dangerous and short-sighted experiment in social engineering that bases subject costs on arbitrary views about what is valuable rather than the actual costs of the subject.

This proposal is counter-intuitive because fee increases represent a missed opportunity to better fulfil the Federal Government’s own stated aim of preparing “Job-ready Graduates”.

According to the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) 2017 report, The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order, today’s young Australians will need to prepare for a 2030 work environment that will demand of them the ability to learn on the job, solve complex problems, think critically, make informed judgements and use verbal communications and interpersonal skills.

Humanities and related subjects focus particularly on students acquiring these cognitive skills in both specialist and transferable ways. Humanities students learn to:

  • Critically analyse and solve complex, novel, ill-defined, multi-dimensional problems in complex, real-world contexts, such as climate change, poverty or terrorism.
  • Comprehensively assess and interrogate multiple perspectives and effectively weigh-up evidence
  • Research and communicate findings presented in a logical, detailed, accurate and relevant manner
  • Develop intra and interpersonal attributes such as global awareness, collaboration, empathy, and an appreciation for civic duty.
  • Develop intellectual agility and flexibility with the capacity to devise creative and lateral solutions to problems

This proposal is detrimental because fee increases risk the potential to cause serious and long-lasting damage to Australian values, democratic institutions, civic engagement and participation in public and political life, precisely at a critical moment in our nation’s history where we need our society to be informed, resilient, cohesive, inclusive and true to our democratic ethos.

Both the current Federal Government’s own 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper detail the continued and increased likelihood of volatile regional and international trends that stand to potentially challenge Australia’s national interests.

Young people will need to respond to the uncertainty and complex challenges brought on by looming global crises such as climate change, rapid technological change, growing income inequality, the return to populism and authoritarian government and its accompanying political polarization and social division. These considerations are further compounded by the immediate human rights dimensions of COVID-19 particularly around access to physical and mental health services, gender equity and restrictions on civil liberties.

To be equal to these challenges, and those we haven’t yet predicted, we need to provide opportunities for Australians to develop a deep understanding of history, philosophy, anthropology, politics, sociology and economics.

We urge the Federal government to recognise and commit to the valuable and strategic work performed every day by analysts working in humanities and related fields.

Australia’s ability to enhance our national security, social cohesion, economic prosperity, regional relationships and global standing, as well as navigate future global insecurity rests on a humanities-educated citizenry.

References

Australian Government (2017) Foreign Policy White Paper https://www.fpwhitepaper.gov.au/

Department of Defence (2016) Defence White Paper https://www.defence.gov.au/WhitePaper/Docs/2016-Defence-White-Paper.pdf

Foundation for Young Australians (2017) The New Work Smarts https://www.fya.org.au/report/the-new-work-smarts/

 

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