Thanks to the NTEU for their invitation to attend their Melbourne forum on “Reflections on 25 years of higher education unionism” and the celebration of NTEU General Secretary Grahame McCulloch extraordinary contribution to unionism, tertiary education and international solidarity.
It was a pleasure and honour to join these events. For a few years I held the Greens higher education portfolio. It was a highlight of my time in parliament and it was when I forged a close working relation with NTEU members and office bearers as we took on the then Abbott government.
This NTEU event exploring the priorities of unionism and the future of tertiary study reinforced for me the priority of winning secure work conditions for staff and the right to free higher education for students.
Time and time again I see how the cost of a tertiary degree is a turn off for young people continuing their education.
Many people I talk to say they do not want to start their working life with a debt burden. Being effectively denied one’s right to a full education is a shocking way to head into one’s adult years.
This is another area where Australia is out of step with transformative global trends. Many countries have made university education fee free, often for foreign students as well. In Australia, despite the example being set by the Adhern government in New Zealand, the call for free higher education is still largely the domain of the left in this country. We now need to build broad based allies and for all of us to amplify our demand for free higher education. This is a campaign that we urgently need to win.
Australia should follow the lead of Chile. Like Australia this South American nation once had free higher education, a policy that was subsequently dropped in both countries. In Australia that policy reversal was the decision of a former Labor government. In Chile it was the US backed Pinochet regime that over threw the democratically elected Allende government that shattered the plans of so many young Chileans to pursue tertiary education courses.
After more than a decade of struggle, by progressive students and their supporters, the Higher Education Law was passed and now most Chileans can access free higher education.
I wanted to update myself on the status of free higher education as many countries today recognise the benefits of free higher education for young people and their country’s economy.
There are a lot of great examples that put Australia to shame. Here’s a few –
In Germany all students can attend a public university for free. Overseas students can study for their degree in English at most universities including top institutions such as the University of Munich and University of Bonn.
Slovenia has also recognised the benefits of free higher education for local and overseas students.
In Norway public universities are free. This means students can study at top institutions, including them University of Oslo and Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
In Finland students studying in Finnish or Swedish do not pay for their education Tuition and financial aid is provided to some international students.
France is one country that has shifted back to a fee based tuition but the word is that the government’s education policy is under pressure from neighbouring countries like Germany.
Free higher education has long been the policy of the Greens. Our campaign materials can be found at this link. Scroll down and you will find some useful leaflets. https://sites.google.com/view/senatorleerhiannonmaterials/home