The National Union of Students rallied today for its usual assortment of not entirely coherent causes:
Remove Full Fee entry places,
Reduce exorbitant HECS increases,
Relieve student poverty and
That’s right, students should not be allowed to pay for their tuition (remove full-fee places) or should pay less (reduce HECS), but they should be required to pay for services they do not want, such as political rallies attracting a few hundred people (repeal VSU).
I’m not sure that NUS fully understands the implications of their no full-fee places policy. When they used an AFR story earlier in the week about increasing numbers of full-fee students to call for the phasing out full-fee places, they probably did not realise that many of those places were at private higher education providers, dozens of which since 2005 have acquired access to the FEE-HELP income-contingent loan scheme. So does NUS now agree that private higher education should be funded the same way as public higher education? Their comrades at the Australian Education Union might have something to say about the precedent that would set.
NUS may find that rather more students are showing an interest in full-fee place than show an interest in NUS (the media has been slack on this one – NUS claims to represent students, but how many students have voluntarily joined a student union?). Data from the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre shows that for the 2007 academic year 11% of 2006 Year 12 students put at least one full-fee course on their list of preferences. About 4% of those who actually enrolled were in such a place, but the applications data suggests that more were considering paying full fees if necessary.
Of those applying on the basis of completed higher education studies, 20% put in an application for a full-fee place, and 5.3% of enrolments were in full-fee places. 15% of those applying on the basis of incomplete higher education put down a full-fee course, but in the end only 3.3% took one.
Though I don’t think full-fee education is necessarily any kind of problem, if NUS advocated vouchers I could at least respect their stance while disagreeing with it. But as it is, their argument is that some people’s course and career hopes should be crushed because they fall on the wrong side of a quota system that has almost nothing to do with anything except history and politics.
That, I think, is a perverse position to hold. But it is what we would expect of an organisation that shows little sign of even understanding its own policies.