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Industry body PRIA condemns proposed university fee hike for communications degrees

The Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) has denounced the proposal by the Federal Government to overhaul university course fees and potentially double the cost of studying humanities subjects.

PRIA’s national president, Leigh McClusky, said the announcement by Education Minister Dan Tehan is short-sighted and argued Australia’s navigation of the COVID-19 crisis had been greatly aided by successful communications and marketing campaigns.

PRIA’s national president Leigh McCluskey

“This is clearly an inequitable and ham-fisted approach to try and drive young Australians into areas of learning, which may neither be their choice nor their natural skill set,” McClusky said.

“While clear, cogent and compelling communications may not be considered ‘job relevant’ by Mr Tehan, we would argue in a world that has been beset by confusion and upheaval, the ability for organisations – including the Government – to communicate effectively with our communities has had a critical role to play.

“In fact, Australia’s ability to make significant progress on the fight against COVID-19 has been greatly assisted by clear communications, public health messaging and marketing campaigns which have ensured the population has largely abided by the health advice offered.”

Tehan announced the overhaul at the National Press Club on Friday, proposing reduced university fees in “job-relevant” fields including nursing, teaching, maths, science, health and architecture, meaning these students could expect to pay between $3,700 and $7,700 per year.

Students enrolling to study law and commerce will see fees raised by 28%, and those in humanities courses, including communications and public relations, will be placed in the highest price band of $14,500 a year – more than doubling the cost.

The policy aims to increase the graduate employment rate of 72%, the Government contended, and comes as the country faces rising unemployment and demand for tertiary education due to COVID-19.

PRIA referenced the Federal Government’s Job Outlook for public relations professionals in its response, which states the industry requires a very high skill level of a Bachelor’s degree or higher and is on track for stable growth.

McCluskey said it was ironic that a government which relies so heavily on the skills of communications professionals would dismiss the industry.

“On behalf of our members, the PRIA is determined to lobby – loud and long – against the introduction of what we believe are the illogical and unfair increases to the pricing structure of humanities degrees, as outlined last week by Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan,” she said.

“These retrograde changes will clearly have an impact far wider than just the PR and communications industries and we will be looking to collaborate with other creative industries which will be similarly affected, to amplify our objections.

“The irony of any Government that relies so heavily on the skills and talents of PR and communications experts to help them win Government and stay in Government, and yet chooses to dismiss the very expertise that so often protects and promotes them, is not lost on our members.”

She also questioned whether agriculture graduates would be on hand to “carefully craft the Government’s and the Minister’s next difficult and unpalatable announcements, when they need an expert in communications”.

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