I am contrary, I know, but whenever Julie Bishop is enthusiastic about something I tend to take the opposite view. Yesterday, for example, speaking in defence of the ideologically driven (and short-sighted) abolition of compulsory union fees at universities — see The Sydney Morning Herald — she remarked: “The challenge for student unions is to attract student support by being relevant and efficient.” The context for that “Let them eat cake” utterance is this.
Students used to pay several hundred dollars a year in compulsory union fees, which subsidised services such as child care, international student support, food outlets, sporting clubs and infrastructure, student newspapers and social clubs, but the Federal Government passed laws banning the practice in 2005. Since then the sector has lost $167 million in annual income, resulting in a 50 per cent funding cut to inter-university sport, a 40 per cent funding cut to sporting clubs and more than 1000 people employed in student services losing their jobs, the study found.
Nationally 100 sporting services such as elite athlete support have been shut down or reduced, while the same has happened to 261 union services.
But the money students have saved will not necessarily remain in their pockets, with the study calculating they will spend more than that amount in the increased cost of services and rises in HECS fees.
This is a topic The Rabbit felt strongly about — as I think does Thomas — and where we disagreed. I put my case in September 2005 and reported the passing of the bill in December 2005 when I wrote: “Mr R is very happy: this has been a theme for him for a very long time. But I really wonder if it is a famous victory after all… I found the whole issue plagued with distortions and misconceptions, as I said in September. Certainly it wasn’t an issue where conservatives were united.”
Certainly today’s Herald article offers some alternative explanations for the decline of sporting clubs and services, but I think much is to be said for the interpretation I quoted. I never resented the fees when I was at university myself — and believe me I was not rolling in cash — nor when I was for a year at UTS in 1998. Yes, some of the money went to things I would never use and to activities I may have found dubious, but that was not the essential point. What I did use mollified any resentment along those lines. I realised that a university is more than a glorified high school, and also realised that the facilities I enjoyed had to be paid for by somebody. It always struck me that levying everyone was the best approach. “User pays” sounds good, but is often very self-centred and short-sighted. It seems too there is now a blowback: no-one is actually saving any money!
Redfern doc has the blood test results. No, I don’t have diabetes…
Note: Sunday night
A lively discussion has ensued both below and on Jim Belshaw’s blog. It is worth reading Thomas’s latest post, Second Job, as one considers his viewpoint. Seems to have been a degree of misunderstanding here (and at Jim’s)… Obviously I was opposed to voluntary “unionism” (so-called) at university, which means I was in favour of the relevant institutions being supported in part at least from student levies. I felt, as I say above, that the “reform” would prove costly — I really wonder if it is a famous victory after all… — and I believe it has. That remains my position. However, this is not to criticise personally those with a different perspective. I am arguing that voluntary “unionism” has not really been good for the universities, that’s all. I hope that becomes clear in the course of the following comments.