I always thought university would be a lusty, vibrant and vivid world. It would be full of passionate debate, prompted by professors looking like hipster bats in their furry hooded gowns. Like QI. With protests.

So far, at university in Melbourne, I've been disappointed. I did go to a protest where they screamed, "kill the lizard people, kill themmmm". But it hasn't been a hotbed of intellectual passion, rampant idealism and feisty challenge to authority. In fact, it's been a bit ... grey. Everyone's worried.

It's not just Melbourne. Having grown up in the UK and New Zealand, I can compare the situation on three levels. It's strikingly similar.

Students are increasingly worried about money. Not, "how many boxes of wine can I buy with all the change under the sofa?" But, "how will my degree get me a stable future career that repays my gaping debts?" This manifests itself in the serious, grey and practical pall that has settled over us students. I don't blame us students. The message behind universities has changed historically.


Once, uni was about knowledge. Now we're told to pick sensible degrees that will get us a sensible job with a sensible salary.

This is worrying in itself, but it's particularly gut-churning this week.

Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon came out on Thursday and endorsed university fee deregulation. He supported the deregulated Australian and UK models. Steven Joyce is reluctant to adopt this process, but we need to make sure he stays this way.

At the moment, the Government regulates fees, and increases are capped at 4 per cent a year. It means that course costs are fairly low and standardised.

For example, according to Universities New Zealand, in 2014 an education degree at Waikato University costs $5381 and at Auckland University, $5384.

When the University of Western Australia released its future uncapped fees this year, teaching degrees increase by $10,000. Debt has quadrupled to $143,000 and will be repaid in a staggering 26.5 years for women.

I feel like we're trying to copy the wrong answers here. And if we do copy them, will this curb enrolments?

The 2012 white paper by UK Shift Learning consultants concluded that uncapped fees saw reduced tertiary participation in poorer families. However, university participation rates would not drop majorly. Instead, students were so desperate for a degree they would stomach any costs.


It means the already prevalent career concern will become paralysing. University will get even greyer.

With uncapped fees, and increased amounts of debt, students will see it as crucial their degrees ensure high paying jobs. Firm financial futures will become the primary focus.

With increased university debt, lower paying jobs like teaching and nursing will become less attractive career prospects. If we use UWA's predictions, women will be in their 40s before they pay off teaching and nursing debts.

Secondly, it's going to exacerbate student depression and stress. Students will increasingly be choosing degrees and futures on financial motivations. They won't be able to afford to choose their future career based on their strengths or passions.

University is supposed to be about stretching your mind. This model makes it about your stretched pocket.

So please, vice-chancellor, think about why you work for a university. I hope it's because you love knowledge, and want us to too. Not because you want to make us into grey little sausages to be toasted by the corporate world.