Sunday, April 04, 2004

Has Brendan Nelson taken up my “degree buy-back” idea?

Last year I wrote this open letter. I had more-or-less given up on it, until I heard Education Minister Brendan Nelson speak these words the other day (quoted on JJJ “Hack” 31 March 2004):

"Some of these students that are protesting today, that are looking forward to high-income earning careers with pretty-much guaranteed employment, might they give just a little bit of thought to struggling families that are trying to get their kids into TAFE".

Whaddaya know? Brendan Nelson has uttered the g-word: guaranteed [employment for uni graduates]. Yes, I know that he qualified it with the prefix “pretty-much”, but as any law student could tell you, there’s no such thing as going a little bit guarantor – something’s either a fully-enforceable guarantee, or it’s a nothing. In some cases of ill-considered guarantees, the promise-giver may be able to back out of liability by resort to equitable doctrines like undue influence, but for a man in Dr Nelson’s position, this is hardly arguable.

In other words, Brendan Nelson has just apparently given an Australian government guarantee, not only of employment, but of high-income earning employment for uni graduates. I can’t see any reason why he would be churlish about it by not agreeing to backdate this guarantee for GenXer's uni studies during the 1980s and 90s.

Let’s be reasonable, though. “High-income” covers a broad range, and I, for one, am prepared to concede upfront the absolute floor on this – thus let the guaranteed minimum income for uni graduates be average full-time weekly earnings. Further, as I proposed in my open letter, a condition of calling in the guarantee would be that the graduate repay in full what they have not (and will not) repay in HECS, fees etc. In other words, every cent of taxpayer-subsidy gets eventually paid back, through a 50% tax surcharge on the graduate’s guaranteed minimum average full-time weekly earnings income, of $45k or so. And as a bonus, Dr Nelson, I’ll hand in my degrees and promise in future never to even mention the past existence of them, when going for jobs, dates etc.

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