Our industry needs to fight harder against the discriminatory uni fee clusterf*ck

Chris Savage, campaign director of the Australian Communications Advocacy Group, argues the industry needs to take an urgent stand to stop a critical pathway for talent being destroyed by legislation that will hamper the industry for decades.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.”― Edmund Burke 

Evil is a subjective word, but the Federal Government’s proposal to raise fees that our industry’s students pay for arts degrees by 113%, while slashing the total funding for key courses by 23%, is just that.

The advertising and communications industry needs to do more, this week, if we have any chance to stop the government doing this evil to the future of our industry, to Australia’s future and, more specifically, to the futures of year 12 students and those coming after them.

The change will impact university students, and by extension, the industry

Many creative and communications agency and holding company leaders have stepped up and supported efforts to stop the government’s attempts to raise fees on arts degrees by 113% – that’s a 113% increases to fees for arts degrees in media, communications, advertising, journalism, design and many other degrees relevant to our industry.

I thank every one of them and you can read their submissions here.

But too many agency leaders have done nothing, despite large percentages of their current workforce having exactly these qualifications and their business models relying on the graduates who will be affected by these changes.

It’s not too late. Take action this week as the senate inquiry into this matter is firming up its recommendations on the proposed legislation over the next few days. All the details on what you can do are on www.acag.net.au.

There is no doubt pathways into our industry need to be diverse. A degree is just one channel, and as an industry, we need to create new pathways to attract the right talent for the future. Also, we can’t mask the fact that there are deep flaws in our tertiary system which have been debated in these very pages.

The simple fact of the matter is that this proposal takes away our right to have a discussion about the quality of the tertiary system and the graduates it produces. By jacking up the fees paid by students at the same time as reducing the total funding for these courses, universities will have to make some tough decisions – including whether or not they can still afford to deliver these courses.

So what would you prefer? A future where we can shape the training delivered to our graduates, or a future where we have no graduates at all?

This bullying approach by the government – to push through ill-conceived and ill-informed legislation that discriminates against our industry at a time when we’re all focusing on supporting the fight against COVID-19 – is simply wrong. It will decimate these courses, and stamps out the future where we can work together as an industry to improve the quality of our tertiary education courses.

The PR, business and internal communications sectors have joined forces to fight this legislation on our industry’s behalf by creating the Australian Communications Advocacy Group (ACAG).

Our group – the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) is leading the industry’s fight against the Federal Government’s proposed unfair fee increases for arts and humanities subjects, and is ramping up our action against this legislation this week.

In its submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, ACAG said: “We are concerned that this legislation will impact the viability of our industry by significantly reducing the number of graduates and the offering of communications courses at higher education institutions. Public relations, journalism and media professionals are already listed as skilled occupations eligible for visa sponsorship due to skills shortages in Australia, burdening employers with expensive recruitment overheads.

“Ultimately, all Australians will suffer because of this policy. Together, we have benefited from expert communications and crisis advice throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, during floods and the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20.”

By using a hefty financial stick to drive students in the government’s preferred STEM cattle yard, the government will be taking away their choices and also the diversity of those students. Those young people from diverse cultural and financial backgrounds who can’t afford to follow a humanities course of their passion and choosing, will be financially shut out.

But it is simply wrong that the government is proposing a system where only the kids with families with deep pockets and fat bank accounts, actually get to have a real choice about their future.

Surely now more than ever, we need a diverse and inclusive society, across communications and every other field of marketing endeavour?

If you agree, visit www.acag.net.au and see the options available for all in our industry to take action now to stop this awful legislation.

Yes, we need to revisit and recalibrate pathways into our industry.

Yes, we need to closely examine how the tertiary system can better calibrate its approach to delivering job ready graduates to our industry. This needs a full consultation process, and close collaboration across our industry.

That opportunity will be gone forever if we let the government push through this terrible, highly damaging and discriminatory legislation.

Chris Savage is the founder of Ogilvy PR, a former chief operating officer of STW (now WPP AUNZ), and today is CEO of growth advisory firm, The Savage Company


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