Australia Wants to Deter Students From Studying Humanities

Sydney Opera House is backdropped by haze from wildfires near the city on Nov. 12, 2019. (Mette Estep / NTB scanpix via AP)

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Australia’s conservative government announced plans Friday to double university fees for humanities students, in a bid to push people into more useful, “job-relevant” courses such as math and science.

Under the proposal — which critics panned as an “ideological assault” — the cost of degrees in history or cultural studies will rise up to 113%, to around U.S. $29,000, while other courses such as nursing and information technology will become cheaper.

Education Minister Dan Tehan — an arts graduate with two advanced degrees in international relations — said the government wants to corral young people toward “jobs of the future” to boost the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you are wanting to do philosophy, which will be great for your critical thinking, also think about doing IT,” Tehan said.

The plan would help pay for an additional 39,000 university places by 2023 and for cost cuts for courses in science, agriculture, math and languages.

But critics slammed the plans as “unconscionable” and part of a broader “culture war” that puts economic utility above learning.

“I’m an arts graduate and so is the minister for education, so I’m not sure you can draw the conclusion that we’re completely unemployable,” said opposition lawmaker Tanya Plibersek.

“People aren’t dumb; they don’t want to get thousands of dollars into debt without the prospect of a job.”

Australian university students do not have to pay upfront for their studies. Most use government loans and then are taxed at a higher rate to repay their debt.

Australian Academy of the Humanities President Joy Damousi said the reason for targeting the field was unfathomable.

“There is a clear disconnect in the government’s thinking around the issue of qualifications and employment,” Damousi said, adding that employers want graduates who can think critically.

The National Union of Students said the plan gave students a “debt sentence.”

“Future students do not deserve to bear the brunt of this government’s ideological assault against higher education,” it said.

The announcement is the latest shake-up to a sector already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus. 

Education is Australia’s third-largest export — behind only iron ore and coal — with more than 500,000 international students enrolled last year, bringing about U.S. $22 billion into the economy.

Border closures have blocked around 20% of this year’s international students, Tehan said.

© Agence France-Presse

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