Australia: Thumbs down to university fund cuts, higher student fees - poll
The government announced one of the biggest changes to the education sector in recent years. Pic: Reuters/David Gray.

The Australian government’s recent changes to the country’s higher education sector is not boding well with its citizens, a new Guardian Essentials poll has found.

More than half (56 percent) of those polled are unhappy with the government’s move to save AUD2.8 billion (US$2.06 billion) by slashing funds to the country’s universities. A higher proportion (60 percent) disapproves in the move to make students pay higher fees.

Opinion is more even, however, on the issue of the repayment of study loans. A total of 47 percent agreed that students should be required to repay their debts earlier (when their salary reaches AUD42,000) while 44 percent disagreed.

The Australian federal government last week announced one of its biggest reform packages for the country’s higher education sector in recent years, with an aim to cut federal funding to universities to make the sector more “sustainable”.

Students face higher fees as well as a shorter time before being required to repay their student loans. The government confirmed these changes in the federal budget speech on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (R) and Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison walk into the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, May 10, 2017. Source: AAP/Lukas Coch/via Reuters

Post-announcement, Australia’s youth and education stakeholders have voiced their disapproval with what the new budget has in store for higher education sector.

Crikey’s political editor wrote:

“What is clear is that next week’s budget looms as a continuation of this government’s war on young people… This is an economic war on our youth, and one they should never forgive us for.”

While Guardian’s poll shows a slightly less grim outlook, it is unlikely that Malcolm Turnbull’s government is set to score any significant brownie points with voters or reverse the spectre of the deeply unpopular budget back in 2014. Turnbull’s Liberal/National Coalition is trailing behind the Opposition, according to the poll’s findings as well, although Turnbull still leads Opposition leader Bill Shorten by 39 percent to 31 percent.

But when it comes to education, perceptions about the education package remained “broadly negative”, according to the poll findings. A total of 61 percent of respondents agree “young people have cause to feel they are under attack”, thanks to the combination of measures the government has served on them, i.e. university fee hikes, reduction in penalty rates and expensive housing.

The majority also feel the government had its priorities wrong when it slashed funds for universities but gave tax breaks to businesses.

When asked how to solve the question of who should fund universities, those polled were split on whether they agreed with the current funding split where students pay 42 percent of the cost of their degree and the government pays the balance 58 percent.

On whether university education should be free, nearly half (45 percent) agreed it should be, while 29 percent disagreed.

Guardian Essentials polled 1,759 voters for the survey which was released on Tuesday.

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