Update on Draft Legislation consultation (August 2020):
LCNAU joined other HASS associations in responding negatively to the Federal Government’s proposal for a new funding framework for the tertiary sector. The issue has been brought to prominence once more with the release of draft legislation designed to implement the proposed funding changes and to ensure that the Government can have its new arrangements in place for the commencement of 2021.
The draft legislation has been put out for consultation this week, but with an extremely tight turnaround – feedback is due by Monday 17 August. It is expected that the legislation will be introduced to Parliament very shortly afterwards.
You can see the draft legislation here, as well as other supporting documents. All interested parties are mobilizing to respond to the draft, the details of which have exacerbated concerns about student disadvantage and cuts to university funding. For further information, go to the News section of the LCNAU website, where we have assembled a collection of articles on this topic.
LCNAU is a member of CHASS, which has drafted a letter on behalf of its members to campaign against the changes. You can see this letter here. Despite the very short notice, we hope that you might also be able to add your individual voices to this campaign, Responses to the consultation can be addressed to Hereform@dese.gov.au.
Background (July 2020):
On June 19, Minister Tehan’s announcement of a proposed new fee structure for the Federal funding of University teaching came as a shock to the sector generally. Reactions to the proposal were initially mixed, although opposition soon became more strident, with specific criticisms emerging progressively over the fortnight following the announcement, once university administrators and researchers had had the opportunity to examine the proposal in more detail. Widely shared conclusions seem now to be that the package represents considerably less funding for universities overall than they would have received under previous arrangements, and this despite the recognised need to provide extra places to cover increased demand from domestic students over coming years.
And, of course, one of the most widely remarked changes to funding under the new government proposal is the dramatically increased cost that it wishes to introduce for students seeking to study the Humanities and Social Sciences, using the argument that students should be encouraged to enrol in subjects such as STEM that give them skills they need to enhance their future employment prospects. This argument has since been widely discredited, using the Government’s own figures on the healthy employment outcomes that HASS students enjoy in a range of sectors and the views of business leaders that HASS students possess a mix of the skills they most value as employers.
Languages do not come out so badly in this new mix, since student fees are to be significantly reduced and government funding increased, but overall the net position for those universities offering languages is that their funding would be slightly reduced. The tables which you can see here set out the new funding situation for a range of subjects so that you can compare languages with other HASS subjects. Should this mean that we support the package in that our students benefit and that we do not represent a major funding loss to universities? Firstly, we should remember that the minor deficit to our institutions that we represent becomes $15,000 for every 100 EFTSL of language students, which is not as insignificant as may first appear. Secondly, perhaps the comment from one Vice-Chancellor can give us a clue as to where we may be placed in university thinking in the immediate future:
One of the things we will do in relation to COVID-19… I am going to pare down everything that doesn’t speak to technology or science. Because do we need to be the 10th university that teaches Chinese or Italian? No… we are the Swinburne University of Technology, we are going to be working with industry and students on creating the technology of the future.
Other articles that we have also included on our News Page point to certain perverse (or intended?) aspects of the package which have the potential to vastly alter the tertiary education landscape, without offering universities any relief from the already disastrous effects of the loss of international student revenue or assistance to cope with the spike in enrolments expected as from 2021.
Given this situation, the LCNAU committee determined that the best approach to adopt was to demonstrate solidarity with our colleagues in HASS and to express our disquiet about the substantial decline in funding for the university sector as a whole (see https://theconversation.com/the-government-would-save-1-billion-a-year-with-proposed-university-reforms-but-thats-not-what-its-telling-us-142256). We also recognise that there are inherent difficulties for the languages under the new arrangements, in that our majors generally include the study of both languages and their corresponding cultures, with the latter category of subjects in some universities being classified as HASS rather than language subjects. Will those culture subjects not currently classified as languages be subject to the huge increases in student fees designed for HASS subjects? and why, if they are deemed to be an integral part of language study and the development of intercultural knowledge?
The other major factor is, of course, that students enrol in degrees, within which they choose subjects. No one really knows what effect the proposed funding changes would have on student choices or institutional behaviours, but it is entirely possible that, if these funding changes pass the Senate, there could be gains for language-specific degrees/awards, such as the BLang or DipLang. However, in many, if not most institutions, the majority of language students are enrolled in degrees such as the BA, B International Studies, Arts/Law, BA/BTeach or even the BCommerce. If it turns out that fewer students enrol in these degrees or combined degrees, this would reduce our numbers considerably – to the point where it would outweigh gains elsewhere (e.g., the DipLang).
However, regardless of these and other difficulties that lie ahead for our own discipline if the government plan becomes a reality, we can see that this is a package with the potential to divide us all, while bringing little or no benefit to the vast majority of disciplines or the universities that house them. As such, it should be rejected in its totality. More specifically, since languages live within HASS structures, we consider that any damage done to HASS will have grave consequences for us all.
As a consequence, LCNAU became a signatory to a group letter to the Minister which emanated from CHASS (Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) and which rejected the government’s proposal. You can see this letter at https://www.chass.org.au/media-releases/letter-from-hass-associations-opposing-changes-to-hass-degree-fees/. LCNAU has since become a member of CHASS and attended a forum for professional associations which gave the latest advice relating to the implications for the tertiary sector of this package and to future strategies that the group may wish to pursue.
We have also been in contact with other groups which are seeking to establish common forms of action to defend the interests of languages and linguistics with the HASS sector. We all agreed that the most effective form of action was initially to write to the crossbench senators to encourage them to reject the Government’s proposal. LCNAU has done this, by writing to the Centre Alliance representatives, and to Jacqui Lambie, as well as to the Greens and Labor. You can find these letters and the politicians’ responses here. We invite you also to add your voices to the defence of this important cause.