The Cost of Fund Cuts
A reduction in funding to universities was predictable, if not inevitable, with the global financial crisis. Governments have been left with less money to distribute to various institutions and costs are being cut wherever possible. No doubt this has been the case in a number of countries around the world over the past year.
The previous Australian government, however, chose to make such cutbacks even before the crisis. During the 2007 election, it was reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that Australia was the only country in the western world to have actually reduced funding to its tertiary educational institutions in recent years, and this had followed the introduction of voluntary student unionism some years earlier.
The resources available to us continued to diminish: various departments could no longer afford to hold weekly tutorials; student media disappeared and without union funding; and clubs and sporting facilities were forced to shut down.
The university is no longer seen as an environment to experience. Where our parents and grandparents were able to see the university as an environment in which to learn, grow and prosper, we are forced into a position where our educational institution is little more than a hindrance to our ability to work minimum wage jobs during the week.
Sadly, many are now attempting to condense their timetables to avoid having to spend more than the bare minimum of time at school. The powers that be no longer see higher education as a priority, and neither do the students.
Campus life in Australia has virtually died.
This is, of course, aside from the first few days of the academic year when we attempt to deceive freshmen that college will be the experience they've seen in films and fondly discussed during their final years of high school; one where music is always playing and heated debates are sporadically erupting all over campus.
In fact, a walk during an average afternoon is desolate and quiet; two words that are never typically associated with university life. Quite simply, Australian schools are now primarily business ventures, with educational facilities and resources coming second to the need to process as many degrees as possible and ensure that further funding cuts are not made on account of dwindling numbers. It has become almost impossible to fail a subject, as forcing a student to repeat is an irreplaceable loss to the original cohort.
Furthermore, the financial pressures exerted on students by increases in tuition, the lack of subsidizations to essentials and the extortionist pricing of compulsory textbooks only served to exacerbate the problem. We are fortunate enough in Australia to have a system that allows us to defer our tuition payments until such a time when we are better able to afford them. Yet the continuing decline in funding to universities has placed us in a position where we must make money ourselves — a lot of money — in order to live the lifestyles more easily afforded to those in higher education even just a few years ago.
It is not an unreasonable expectation that we would have jobs, but we are forced to negotiate the demands of employers who are aware of the flexible learning options that have been made available to save costs, such as Internet delivery and optional class attendance, and more of our time and energy are expected.
These preliminary years of learning more about our field of choice are increasingly being occupied by other responsibilities, and the ability to enjoy and embrace the university experience is one that is quickly being drained away from Australia's youth.
Thus, the United States now has a ready example of how not to handle necessary decreases to the funding available to universities. It is imperative to learn from one's own mistakes, but it is equally important to learn from the mistakes of others. Australia has demonstrated how to poorly manage funding cuts made to universities. Don't let it happen to your own.
—Dunja Nedic is an Australian exchange
student. She can be reached at