When I left University, 20-mumble or so years ago, I signed up at no cost to join the Alumni Association. For all that time, I’ve been receiving the occasional publication setting out what’s going on, new research, blah blah blah.

Some of this is good, some is bad. I’ve vaguely kept in touch with the University where I spent 5 years, and that gave me 2 degrees. Some of the administration and Vice-Chancellors who run the show day to day, have been good, some terrible. Some interesting, and some excruciatingly boring.

And along the way, I’ve been an occasional donor to the various appeals – money for library collections, but more particularly, funds for student scholarships.

I donate for a few very good and simple reasons:

- I was the beneficiary of Gough Whitlam’s free tertiary education; modern students (thanks I might add to a later Labor Government) are not so fortunate. My parents – who no doubt on reading this may disagree – were not hugely well off, and paying fees would have been either a huge stretch or meant I would not have gone at all;

- My wife is likewise the beneficiary of the free tertiary education – in her case, the parents were even less well off  - but ended up with three University educated daughters – courtesy of Gough or the once-generous government scholarship system;

- And finally – I only just managed to scrape into what I wanted to study. I crept over the cutoff score by 3 points in the equivalent back in those days of the TER. I think I was the lowest scored entrant that year – but entry scores don’t prove everything because I still managed 2 degrees (1 with honours and an invitation to two extra honours years in two other disciplines as well), and left with a bag full of distinctions.

Supporting students who are not so well off is something I care about. It helped me along the way, so the idea of giving something back for future generations matters – especially in the land of HECS, and fees, and parsimonious governments who make it much harder for students to study.

So it pains me when I receive the annual published list of donors – never showing dollar amounts – just donors of anything. And on that list I see the old lecturers, tutors, professors and staff. And bugger all of the students I spent 5 years of my life with.

I wonder what they think of the education and opportunities they received, and whether they are grateful for it? If they are – I’d hope now is time to show it. Most of my cohort should be middle aged and debt free – finding $20 to $100 a year to chuck in a scholarship find should be immaterial. And the help is immeasurable. Time to give a little back.


I’m certainly grateful for the little bit of education I received, all the way to year 9, way back in 1967. School leaving age was 15 then and when I turned 15 Dad said I was finished with school. So I finished, but had absolutely no idea what to do then, yes, woefully ignorant me envisioned days of reading, swimming, not much else. Now of course, I wish I’d known more and done more, but I’ve got to the point where I’m happy enough with the way things have turned out. Mostly.

Comment by river | August 31st, 2009 7:43 pm | Permalink

I do agree that it’s disappointing that more of your fellow-graduates don’t donate to help those coming behind them. Perhaps they all take their education for granted?

Comment by river | August 31st, 2009 7:47 pm | Permalink

You’re right. We would have found it hard without the government picking up most of the cost. Particularly as we had 3 children close together so we soon had three at University at the one time. Without the government picking up most of the fees, we would have found it almost impossible as it was hard enough as it was. I could never understand the Labour Government bringing in HECS and I am sure that it largely arose as a consequence of continuing pressure from the Murdoch newspapers. Similarly, I still cannot understand the approach of the Howard Government while they were in power. I mean, that John Howard and most of his Cabinet were the products of Commonwealth Scholarships as was I and yet they regarded anybody who had a University degree as the ‘enemy’ and proceeded to cut and cut again the funds available to Universities. While other countries were increasing the amounts allocated to tertiary education which after all is the only way the future holds for any country, our Liberal Government proceeded to systematically destroy the tertiary sector. As somebody said, if you think that education is expensive, then just consider the cost of ignorance. The current shortage of medical doctors is just one of the outcomes of idiotic Liberal Party policies.
What Rudd & Co need to do is to allocate huge amounts of money to tertiary education for the next 10 years or as long as they are able to with the aim of moving all of our Universities into the top group in the world. and then we need to get Australian students into them which means educating the secondary school teachers too. I used to do some unpaid tutoring at the University in the Engineering faculty and was surprised by the extremely low numbers of Anglo-Saxon surnames that were there. I don’t believe that I am racist but when I started they were predominantly Greek and Italian and when I finished almost exclusively Chinese or of other SE Asian origin. The continuing emphasis on sporting prowess is a source of great discomfort and needs to be changed. Murdoch press again?
And by the way, I also contribute each year to the scholarship fund. Wish I could do more but there are other charities to support also.
I think that it’s up to everybody later in life to give back to Society something of what they have received. It’s paying your dues to Society really.

Comment by Dad | August 31st, 2009 8:08 pm | Permalink

Wally good point. To be honest I never even thought about it. I support a couple of charities in a very small way but didn’t even think of scholarships. Then I’m middle aged and hardly debt free.

My two owe about $60,000 between them thanks to the HECS program. One did a three year degree, the other four. I was a recipient of a Teacher’s Scholarship and never paid more than my text books all the way through uni. Still it shits me that education isn’t free. No wonder we don’t have kids with a sense of protest and angst, the poor things are working five nights a week to support their education. At least mine did! Must explore . . I guess even $20 is better than nothing. River, OS students pay full fees which is why they’re attractive to many unis. I recently went for a job at my old Uni and it was hard to find an anglo face but they’re playing by the rules and will be the doctors of tomorrow. And if you look at England and Ireland (pretty much the only countries I know about) their fees are also very high. Universal education has become an oxymoron. As for Howard . . he made a serious error of judgement but our present PM isn’t reversing the trend! They’re increasing the difficulty for Student Allowance and no talk agt all of easing the fee base. Education is a right, not a priviledge and should be largely subsidised.

Comment by Baino | August 31st, 2009 9:18 pm | Permalink

I think a lot of the Gough-era graduates DO take their education for granted – it cost nix, so who gives a damn?

And many were only too happy to be shot of the place (I know after 5 years I sure was) and wanted nothing to do with it again. I must have been one of the very few who actually joined the Alumni Association.

As for HECS – I think its evil. I DON’T think everyone should go to university, nor even that everyone should do Tertiary Education. But those who can, should – ability should not be constrained by ability to pay.

I suspect our governments make it difficult from some pointy-headed economic rationalist desire for user-pays. But as I have pointed out before, here:


those who are charged HECS pay for their education 3 times over – through HECS, through higher taxes, and through less long-term drain on the social security system. The long term payment for ones education is significant but under-appreciated.

Governments also, of course, don’t want an educated population. Because the proles are easier to control when you feed them on bullshit, platitudes, football, sport in general, and they can’t THINK well enough to figure out what their governments are actually doing.

While governments have such attitudes, it falls on the rest of us to kick in a few quid to give others a chance in future.

We can have smart graduates and smart students in future – but more in spite of our governments, not because of them.

Comment by Wally | August 31st, 2009 9:47 pm | Permalink

You make a good point, Wally. I was the only one of three kids who got through with a free education – the other two were saddled with HECS debts. I remember marching in protest in 1987, yelling, “NO FEES BY DEGREES!” and hating Labor’s John Dawkins (no doubt a recipient of a free education himself) with a passion.

I’m a member of the Alumni Association (erk, or was – might need to let ‘em know I’ve moved states) and it hasn’t occurred to me to donate to a scholarship. Maybe, blush, when the mortgage is a bit smaller and I earn enough to lodge a tax return? (this year 2008-09 has been the first time I was UNDER the ‘must lodge a return’ income threshold!)

Comment by Kath Lockett | September 1st, 2009 7:44 am | Permalink

“they can’t think well enough to figure out what their governments are actually doing”
Yep, that’s me. I find the machinations of governments and politics very confusing. I’ve given up trying to understand it all.

Comment by river | September 2nd, 2009 7:36 pm | Permalink

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