Christian social work advocates are concerned about the consequences of the Federal Government’s decision to double the cost of humanities degrees in Australia. They say the decision will disadvantage their social work sector at a time when it is most needed.
A spokesperson for Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan confirmed that new students studying social work would pay $14,500 per year for their degree – double the previous amount. Mr Tehan said his aim was to make degrees cheaper in areas of expected employment growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic and recession, however, have demonstrated an increasing the need for qualified social workers across the country.
Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Conny Lenneberg said the new annual tuition fees for a social work degree bore no relationship to future earnings for social workers.
We are forever struggling to employ quality social workers
“We are forever struggling to employ quality social workers — there’s a huge demand for them and they are not highly paid,” she said.
Anglicare South Australia chief executive Peter Sandeman said that doubling the cost of a social work degree would “provide a significant disincentive to young people entering the profession”.
“This will have a significant deleterious impact on the capacity of the non-government sector to support the most vulnerable in our community in the areas of child protection, disability services, homelessness, mental health and suicide prevention — just to mention some of the areas in which we work,” he said.
Higher demand for social workers is being driven by several factors, including the COVID-19 recession, growth of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, increasing aged-care needs, growth in aged care and a greater awareness of mental health and child protection.
Elke Schmidt, a Christian social worker student at the University of Sydney, told The Catholic Weekly that social workers provide essential services in the areas of homelessness, disability care, aged care, family and child welfare, mental health support, and community well-being.
“These are services our Government relies on to close the gaps in society,” Ms Schmidt said.
“The consequence of raising course fees will be costly to the Government and the people who work and rely on the social work field. Social workers are already underpaid and overworked, as are many human service professionals, yet social work degrees provide job readiness for work in a sector that is in desperate need.”