Budget 2014: My advice to an aspiring uni student

Following the 2014 budget, I am glad that I’m no longer a tertiary student and that more than half of my HECS debt is repaid. As the first of my family to not only have a degree but to actually finish high school, I understand the fears this budget can incite within a ‘working class’ student better than most.

“But you don’t have to pay it back until you’re making money.”

This retort is idiotic. I find it repugnant that people shrug off the proposed deregulated course fees and increases to HECS interest rates (that begin as soon as you gain the debt, not earn enough to pay it back) with such a comment.

Debt is debt. My environmental science degree is likely to double in price. I know that I wouldn’t have selected it if I knew it would lead me more than $40k in debt. Of course, with higher interest rates, the cost of the loan would be even greater again. This actually means that those wealthy enough to pay upfront get a discount.

As for a career in environmental science….

For me, I have an excellent track record, for example;

  • having control of a project of more than $150k in which I built what became an exemplary environmental / climate research facility within the national academic research network,
  • I have designed new equipment to support the research objectives of PhD students,
  • Developed detailed spatial data packages of the aquatic flora assemblage of Victorian estuaries,
  • I have also developed much of the background project management infrastructure, such as project databases, Standard Operating Procedure Manuals (both of which have been adopted by other research groups) and various data validation and management systems

In short, my input to various projects have been valuable and my initiative has allowed for new avenues that soon become standard. Moreover, I’ve proven myself to be a successful science and policy commentator, now with articles appearing on various professional media outlets as well as my work being quoted even further. Alongside this, my promotion of research and ability to produce interesting multimedia content is also proven.

I am successful with wide ranging capacities beyond my core roles.

Still, I’ve known nothing but job insecurity. I have had contracts of as much as 3 years and as little as 3 months. I’ve done all I can to demonstrate my value, only to lose hours due to cut backs.

Since January, I’ve dedicated much of my free time to job searching (hence why NewAnthro is fairly quiet). Despite my wide ranging skills package, my very helpful networks and all the application assistance I’ve had on my side, I haven’t even had a single interview.

I can’t even scroll through the news of late without hearing of more cutbacks in research and natural research management, leaving me at a loss in a career that was suppose to be the industry of the 21st century (as I was sold prior to selecting my degree).

My advice

As for what I would suggest, it’s difficult to admit, but I wouldn’t take my path if I knew back before my uni days what I know now.

To a student currently hoping to enrol in an environmental degree, I would suggest a general science degree instead where you can major in courses that suit your interests, skills or desired career path as you go along.

If you, like me as a student, plan to work in applied science, choose something core to human activity.

For instance, instead of conservation, focus on primary industry. Instead of climate, focus on urban design or engineering or something relevant.

You can influence the same necessary behavioural changes, but under a different title which have greater employability.

Lastly, be clever with your protesting.

Hijacking Q&A when Christopher Pyne was a guest. The presumed violence towards Julie Bishop on a recent uni visit. These are worse than ineffective, they are detrimental.

Being an advocate for climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as equality for a number of years has led me to mull over this problem for some time.

In this case, the protesters could mirror the response; this has been to morally disapprove the behaviour of these students.

Collect the data and campaign on the fair and equal rights of all Australian students to develop their skills. Going to uni isn’t simply personal. Tertiary education improves the standard of living and revenue of the country as a whole (how else do you end up with skills shortages than through reducing support for education?). It is an investment where the individual and the Commonwealth both benefit.

The marching this month is great, but social media is a powerful tool as well. Education through concise multimedia and easy to understand memes can reach the voting public in ways that scuffling with politicians on uni grounds simply won’t.

Uni students are a large cohort of the public, with numerous resources at their finger tips (eg. libraries and access to research behind pay walls for instance) and being primarily Gen-Y, they are tech savvy.

These are the strongest weapons in the students’ arsenal.

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3 responses to “Budget 2014: My advice to an aspiring uni student

  1. We are entering a dark age for science . People only want new toys and gadgets from science , not to be told that our lifestyle is killing the climate that bought us to this point of evolution . We are at a crossroad right now !! Today even if we keep going with co2e emissions all our other plans big and small will be pointless .
    Today was Sydneys warmist day ever for May and the longest run of days over 22c but people are saying oh how nice . Hoe can’t we relate the two record warmth and AGW I am dumbfounded .
    Tim for what you have given back to Science I would be happy for you not to need to repay hecs .All Science degrees should be free .
    Sadly hoping for a super el Nino this year so that even abbott can’t ignore the facts .

  2. Thanks for your article Moth. I am also a first generation uni graduate. I hate to think how people who want to become teachers or nurses are going to pay off their degrees, as their wages are not very good. Add a mortgage, health care costs and maybe a family and I can see a whole new class of working poor start to emerge.

    It seems to me that the recent budget is geared to an American style of capitalism which is in essence, a giant Ponzi scheme. The elite few percent at the top and the rest of us, including scientists and intellectuals close to the bottom. The poor, young, disadvantaged and uneducated do not stand a chance.

    • You have to watch out with that typic of language, the brain-dead’s on the Right will be quick to label you a “socialist” as though there was something wrong with a social conscience (which is all that needs to define).

      The truth is, as you say, it’s about genuine democracy; the right of all people to aspire and achieve in a free country. The Libs are harping on about democracy, but it’s only a term for them; ‘I should be able to do as I want.’

      An educated public is an empowered public. Why would big business want that? Which party time and time again develop policies that favour big business?

      We need to fight this for the fair go for all Australians and so Australia remains a democracy, not collapse into plutocracy.

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