Do Students Dream of Non-Existent Fees?

In what is yet another particularly poor decision by the Turnbull government, Australian universities are, under the 2017 budget, going to face a series of funding cuts. As if this wasn’t already disappointing enough, the already pricey fees which we Australian students have to pay to undertake studies at a tertiary level are subsequently going to be raised even higher.

Except pinning a price tag to the pursuit of knowledge is not doing Australia any favours. Already, we have been rendered a complete and utter embarrassment by the fact that our children’s Program for International Assessment – known colloquially as PISA – reading score continues its unfashionable trend of sinking lower with every single year that passes. Results in the mathematics and science areas of the test show just as much promise. Meanwhile, Finland maintains its glistening position among the five top-scoring countries, snugly nestled amidst the likes of Singapore, Estonia, and Japan. Curiously, Finland’s education is free. And, by “education”, I don’t solely mean that of the elementary type – in Finland, all education – primary, secondary, and tertiary – is provided free of charge, with its schools and universities funded as they are by the public.

See, unlike Turnbull and his cronies, the Finnish government clearly understands the interminable value of education. And they’re not mistaken; education, and the pursuit of knowledge, is indeed of vital importance. We, as humans, are born with inquisitive minds. Many of you will remember halcyon days of childhood innocence spent questioning this and that and these and those. How does this work? Where does that come from? What does this mean? Why? Why? Why? ‘Why’ – so eloquently defined by Doctor Brown from Back to the Future II as “that universal question”. We ask because we yearn to learn. Simultaneously, it is drilled in our heads from a young age that the metaphoric pen is mightier than the figurative sword – or, in other words, that the quest for knowledge is a most noble one. Today, however, that quest is riddled with fire-breathing school fees and seems far less inviting as a result. By offering education at a cost, is Turnbull not discouraging the very human want to learn?

And is he not also reinforcing the rather dated notion that education should be made accessible only to the affluent few? Malcolm Turnbull, not everyone is moneyed, and those who are not will be disadvantaged under this budget cut. Yes, the option of applying for a scholarship exists for these less financially fortunate, except, let’s be honest, only so very few find success via this route. It’s a flawed cure to a problem that could easily be fixed by means of prevention.

And we can’t continue to pretend as though prevention is not in the best interest of the students. United Kingdom Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn drew thousands of votes from thousands of youths following his promise to abolish university fees. Corbyn has since revealed the poverty of his memory by vehemently denying that he ever made said promise to begin with. The backlash to his apparent forgetfulness, however, clearly demonstrates our students’ unanimous want for free universities.

I, a student, want to study under a government that shares – or, at the very least, understands – my passion for knowledge. I want to learn new concepts, question concepts I already know, discover modern ways of thinking about old concepts, and I want to do so without facing oppression from looming school fees. I am disheartened that I will be forced to get a part-time job in order to pay said fees off. Ideally, pursuing my studies will allow me to find work in an area that speaks to my interests – that is to say, not in retail or hospitality. Yet, because of the unfortunate existence of university fees, it seems I must work in either one of these industries, regardless.

Education fees benefit no-one except the greedy government who could not care less about the joy of learning nor the future of young Australians. It’s about time Turnbull and co. took a leaf out of Finland’s book – as the country so wonderfully proves, a society that perpetuates free education can indeed function optimally.


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