Bit rich: The truth about our whingeing unis

UNIVERSITY boffins with seven-figure salaries and five-star facilities need to stop bellyaching about money problems and get on with the job of educating young Australians.

 COVID-19 is draining university coffers, as travel bans strand more than 100,000 foreign-student cash cows in China. Highly paid vice-chancellors - handsomely compensated to manage this crisis - should never have let their institutions rely so heavily on international students to make money.

Now they're demanding massive taxpayer handouts - while splurging on opulent and over-the-top facilities. QUT spent $94 million last year building a new "education precinct", to teach teachers, with a palatial new building boasting a giant LED globe suspended over two floors. The uni also spent $27 million on a new carpark, often half-empty, at the Kelvin Grove campus. QUT dug up its sports field to build the facility, only to construct a hi-tech stadium on the rooftop.

The University of Queensland - which paid outgoing vice-chancellor Peter Hoj a whopping $1.2 million this year - is splurging $206 million to create two new campus precincts and a new city hub.

The giant interactive LED sphere at QUT, which was part of a $94 million new build.
The giant interactive LED sphere at QUT, which was part of a $94 million new build.

The spending spree includes $95 million for student housing that will include a "MasterChef" style kitchen and cinema rooms, and $65 million for a "health and recreation centre". Brisbane has a glut of inner-city units, and a jungle of gyms, so why is a university wasting taxpayers' money to duplicate and compete against private facilities?
They're supposed to be educational establishments, not landlords.

Griffith University plans to spend $1 billion over the next decade on new buildings, including a high-rise ivory tower in Brisbane's CBD and fresh facilities on the Gold Coast and in Logan. Hardworking Australian taxpayers - many of them without the privilege of a degree - handed universities $17 billion this year.

More of this money must be spent on teaching and research, and less on vanity projects.  Now that so many Australians have lost work, universities have a duty to retrain them during what looks to be a long recession. Students must be equipped educationally for a career in the COVID-19 economy, with its focus on digital technologies, robotics and automation, science and health services.

The LED globe being put in at QUT’s new Education Precinct.
The LED globe being put in at QUT’s new Education Precinct.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced radical reforms to university fees on Friday, slashing public subsidies for humanities subjects - like gender studies - while boosting taxpayer support for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) degrees. This year's school-leavers will pay lower tuition fees for uni degrees in science, teaching, nursing, IT and engineering - all fields where Australia requires a tech-savvy workforce.

Fees will more than double for the humanities, communications and behavioural sciences - all fields of high unemployment. Barely half of creative arts graduates and 61 per cent of communications graduates find full-time work within four months of graduation.

But at least three quarters of engineering, teaching and nursing graduates have snared a job four months after leaving uni.

The changes, to start next year, mean that domestic students will only be charged $3700 a year to study a degree in maths, agriculture, teaching, psychology, English, nursing or languages. 

A degree in allied health, architecture, IT, engineering or science will be cut by 21 per cent, to $7700 a year. In law, economics, management, commerce, humanities, communications, society and culture and behavioural sciences, the cost of a degree will rise to $14,500 a year - more than medicine, dentistry or veterinary science, which will remain at $11,300 a year.

Law and business have become substitutes for a basic arts degree. Australia has 66,000 qualified solicitors yet universities are pumping out 15,000 law graduates every year. Do the math.

These changes are sensible, steering students away from careers with weak job prospects and ensuring enough Aussie workers are skilled for jobs of the future.

We rely too heavily on an imported workforce in fields such as nursing, engineering and information technology - jobs that will be even more crucial in a post-COVID-19 economy.

International travel bans have exposed the dangers of depending on temporary migrant labour to fill skills shortages, as unqualified Australians are left jobless. That's bad for our society, and our economy.

University graduates are more likely to get a job, keep a job and be paid more than high

But savvy school leavers will choose an apprenticeship - 91 per cent of young tradies have a job six months after training. Now that's smart thinking.

Originally published as Bit rich: The truth about our whingeing unis