Letter from ANZCA Opposing Changes to HASS Degree Fees
23 June 2020
Att. Hon. Dan Tehan
Minister for Education
We are and represent Australian and New Zealand scholars who have taught and researched in Communication and Media Studies for decades. We strongly oppose both the decision to increase university fees for HASS students and also the grounds that led to this conclusion.
We agree that the higher education sector should be closely linked to the wider society and that “a job is more than a vehicle to earn money” and should “provide a sense of self and a means to contribute to family, community and the nation”, as outlined in your National Press Club address. However, we do not agree on the grounds – job-relevance – on which this decision was based, nor do we agree that the evidence was accurately assessed.
You have questioned the economic benefits of pursuing a HASS degree. However, there is evidence that HASS graduates command positive outcomes. The 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) for example, which is funded by your Department, shows HASS graduates have both good short-term and long term employment outcomes similar to those of STEM graduates.
For an individual, the decision to go to university is a result of many factors including aptitude, preference and interest in a study field; future job prospects; and contribution to the wider community. If the decision were to be based solely on the expense of a degree, fewer people would be able to pursue higher education. The Australian government has historically supported higher education because there is huge public support for equity of access and because it builds our national capacity, helping to futureproof our country. Therefore any decision to change the funding rules for tertiary eduction must consider both an individual’s career trajectory and also wider societal benefits.
More specifically, related to our disciplines, students learn digital media literacy including how information is produced, distributed and consumed. Communication and Media Studies degree graduates command a high-level skillset that are among the least susceptible to automation, as we teach our students how to think critically, synthesise knowledge and make sound judgements in the face of conflicting facts. These skills also speak to core values in our democracy where citizens can critically assess information, make informed decisions, and be able express their opinion. Equipping digitally literate citizens is an urgent task especially in an era where misinformation on digital platforms has the potential to sway and influence all citizens.
The job market our graduates principally enter – the creative economy – continues to grow at a much faster rate than the economy as a whole. Furthermore, HASS graduates work across all sectors of the economy as embedded creatives and are driving innovation in our country and globally.
The public support for quality tertiary education has been the backbone of Australia’s prosperity and competitiveness in the global market. This access to tertiary education should be available to all students, and not just the wealthy, and not solely the ones prepared to forgo a passionate commitment to a HASS subject to fit within a STEM disciplinary mould.
We have serious concerns about the future of tertiary education in Australia where short-term job-relevance determines what areas are available for young people to study at an affordable price. We are also deeply concerned that the wealth of a student or the family will determine what disciplines our future generations can or cannot engage with. The stake of yet another division based on wealth is too high. We believe educational choice should be made available to all on the basis of ability, and not just as a privilege of the wealthy.
We propose the Government roll back this proposal and engage with the higher education sector to discuss and reach a consensus on how higher education can contribute effectively to our future generations, our economic prosperity and the social good.
Members of Australian and New Zealand Communication Association