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FIRST DEGREE FREE: campaign for a First University or Vocational Qualification to be free

4 May 2022

Senator Rex Patrick has announced his plan to use the next Parliamentary term to campaign for Australian school leavers' first tertiary education qualification to be free.

“Encouraging and expanding access to higher education is absolutely vital to Australia’s future development as a high-tech, advanced economy and a culturally sophisticated and open society,” Senator Patrick said. 

“I strongly support the model of free tertiary education in the Nordic countries and would love to see that return here.” 

“If re-elected to the Senate I plan to undertake a major political campaign, using all the Parliamentary opportunities and leverage I have, to achieve a restoration of a free first degree, certificate course or trade.” 

The first stage in this campaign will be to press for the first year of a degree to be free and for a trial of fully-free degrees in key fields of study at regional universities. 

“As a first step towards achieving this important national education and skills goal, I’ll be pressing the Federal Government to adopt New Zealand’s policy of providing their citizens with the first year of university education free.”

“We need a revolution in thinking about higher education. We need to see higher education. We need to see higher education first and foremost as a public good, bringing benefit to the whole society, rather than a private benefit purchased in a commercial marketplace. We need to again see our universities and TAFE colleges as vital nation-building institutions, absolutely essential to Australia's future.”

"Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s abolition of university fees in 1974 was a visionary reform that provided many of our nation’s current political, business, scientific, engineering, and cultural leaders with opportunities that they would otherwise not have been able to access. The progressive reintroduction of fees, starting in 1989, was a retrograde step leading to today’s highly commercialised higher education system that has sold Australia’s national interests short.” 

“We need to shift our priorities to give much greater emphasis to building the knowledge and skills base required for national success and prosperity in the 21st Century.” 

"Unfortunately neither major party is bold enough to undertake the higher education reform our nation needs. Both the Coalition and Labor are happy to see vast sums squandered in fossil fuel subsides and other giveaways to the corporate interests while increasing foisting the costs of higher education onto students and their families.”

“As a consequence it’s down to independents such as myself to push the envelope and force whichever party forms Government to move towards a transformation of tertiary education in which the first degree undertaken by Australian students will be free. If New Zealand can commit to this path, there’s no reason that Australia can’t do likewise.” 

“At the same time, I’ll be pressing for the Government to undertake a trial at regional universities in which students enrolled in their first degree or vocational course in critical areas can study for free for the entirety of that program.” 

“Such a trial would be of great benefit to many Australian regions, and especially the smaller states of South Australia and Tasmania.”  

"For too many years, South Australia has suffered a 'brain drain' where locals have to move interstate to find work. Whilst there was a small reversal in this trend during Pandemic lockdowns, we are already starting to see that ‘brain drain’ resume.” 

"We know we need far more registered nurses, particularly in our aged care facilities. We need GPs that are willing to work in the regions and rural areas. We also needed highly skilled engineers, IT professionals and other specialists in our defence and national security sectors.” 

"We can't simply rely on immigration to fill these gaps. We need to offer strong incentives to Australians to help fill the skills void, particularly with our youth, where the unemployment rate sits at 12.6 per cent.” 

"I am committed to working to either party that forms Government to establish a pathway towards a new university education system in which the first degree undertaken by students is free, a public good for all Australia. I plan to use legislative initiatives and the Senate Committee process to focus political debate and policy formulation on this question.” 

“New Zealand’s initiative in first providing the first year of university tuition free is a good model for a staged transformation of higher education in Australia. A trial of fully free first degrees in priority fields of study at regional universities should be another step in a much needed education revolution.”

“If re-elected I’ll be making this a key priority for the next Parliament.”