This week a former student of mine posted a link to a piece she had written for the University of Sydney student newspaper, Honi Soit. I read the story (feeling proud, impressed, and agreeing with her the whole time), and quickly asked if she would mind if I reposted the article here as a guest post on my blog.
Lauren checked with Honi, and Honi were fine with it (thanks editors!). Which makes me happy, because I think this story about the systematic exclusion of disadvantaged students from university is an important one to tell. As a ‘first in family’ university student from Sydney’s Southwest, I too have experienced the cultural and financial barriers to university success.
So here, with kind permission from the author, Lauren Pearce, and the original publisher, Honi Soit, is the article…
Christopher Pyne, equity goals, and the p-word
Lauren Pearce thinks those advocating to keep USYD “prestigious” often do little more than lock out the disadvantaged
by Lauren Pearce, published by Honi Soit on October 15, 2013.
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.
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 inHoni 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?