I’m going to drop the p-word: prestigious. There’s really nothing wrong with that word. The only real issue is if you keep applying the word to yourself, justly or otherwise. Then you start to look like another p-word: pretentious.
On Thursday, 10 October Tony Abbott emerged in Melbourne to assure reporters the university reforms that Christopher Pyne announced earlier were to be put on a back-burner. These changes would mean a cap on university places as opposed to the “demand-driven system” currently in place and the axing of equity goals that encourage students from low-SES backgrounds to enroll, a move that Pyne stated would ensure quality but which had been criticised by the NTEU as detrimental to students from low-SES backgrounds and regional students.
As a student from a low-SES background, hearing Christopher Pyne effectively say I am “the poison that would undermine [universities’] reputations” stings
Since Labor’s reforms were announced in 2011 there has been a slight upswing in the number of low-SES students attending university. Department of Industry higher education statistics show that out of the total students who commenced in 2012, 16.9% of them were from a low-SES background, up 9.1% from 2011. The Gillard government aimed to reach 20% by 2020. USYD falls far behind that percentage. The University’s White Paper, published in 2010, states that only 7% of our student population was from a low-SES background, a number the Paper aimed to increase to 12% by 2015. One method to help achieve these targets was to introduce the E12 scheme in 2013, which provided early entry and a scholarship to 124 students from a low-SES background, including myself. That number is expected to double in 2014. The White Paper’s also found that concerns regarding a student’s disadvantaged background being an unnecessary drain on university resources were “unfounded”.
As a student from a low-SES background, hearing Christopher Pyne effectively say I am “the poison that would undermine [universities’] reputation[s]” stings. An article by Avani Dias in Honi Soit two weeks ago demonstrated that students from western Sydney experience casual and serious discrimination by their peers. Pyne’s comments showed that his government endorses this kind of quiet discrimination and highlighted a real cultural problem.
How are students, who as Dias highlighted have enough barriers to attending university, meant to feel welcome when they know that both the Federal government and their peers are looking down upon them, because of where they grew up, or went to a public school? As a nation, and as a university population, are we too busy trying to be a “prestigious” institution that we’re blind to how pretentious we’ve become?