The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) opposes the proposed changes to the university fees for Library and Information Science (LIS) education, and calls for the Australian Government to prioritise the education of this professional field alongside IT and teaching courses.
Under the Australian Government’s proposed Job-ready Graduates Package, courses aligned to labour market priority areas will benefit from a significant reduction in the cost to the student, with significant reductions in course fees to those studying Information Technology (down by 20.6%) and Education (45.6% down).
However, in the same proposal, the student fees for LIS education are set to rise by 113%, whereby the cost for a student to complete a three-year undergraduate degree would increase from $20,412 to $43,500.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of library and information professionals as innovative educators, who have utilised their IT knowledge and skills to adapt their activities to the online environment. For example, staff in public libraries focused on building up their digital collections and provided direct guidance to the community in using ebooks and online databases. Academic library staff demonstrated innovation to support the continuity of essential services to university staff and students, delivering virtual reference services, information literacy training and facilitating digital access to essential textbooks. Health Librarians acted as an invaluable conduit to enable medical professionals to access the latest COVID-19 data.
Library and information professionals also make up a critical part of the teaching workforce. Recently, ALIA wrote to the Education Minister Dan Tehan seeking his support for Teacher Librarian courses to be aligned with teaching courses in the fee structure.
Furthermore, the proposed changes create a disincentive for students to consider library and information management as a professional career path, leading to future workforce issues.
Sue McKerracher, ALIA CEO says ‘at a time when the library and information sector has committed to creating a more diverse workforce, this change would favour people who can afford to pay, and potentially lock out people from lower socio-economic and/or diverse backgrounds, including women and people of colour’.
‘This change could also dissuade potential students from enrolling, as the cost of the LIS undergraduate degree could take years to recoup in a sector which has modest pay and a significant proportion of part-time jobs’, she said. LIS graduates would accrue almost four times the student debt of those studying nursing and teaching – jobs which attract a comparable entry-level wage on graduation’.
ALIA urges the Australian Government to consider the contributions that LIS graduates make to these labour market priorities, and recommends that LIS education be placed alongside teaching and IT courses in its revised funding clusters. By reducing student fees for LIS courses, the Australian Government can strengthen the library and information profession as a diverse workforce of IT-proficient educators.
ALIA will continue to advocate for LIS education as these changes move through the House of Representatives and the Senate later this year.
About the LIS sector
Library and information science (LIS) is an occupation with a relatively small, highly qualified workforce and an even smaller educational footprint. Although the LIS workforce is small, the sector has significant reach and profile. In the recent publication, 2019: A Year in Libraries, the following statistics were given:
• 13,650 library locations in metropolitan, regional and remote Australia,
• 27,500 workers in libraries and information services,
• 12.9 million users in communities, schools, universities, TAFEs, government departments, research agencies, hospitals, NGOs, law firms, banks, media channels, technology companies and other knowledge-based enterprises across Australia, and;
• $2.8 billion is the estimated annual investment in library and information services in Australia.
About the Australian Library and Information Association
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is the professional organisation for the Australian library and information services sector. With 5,000 members across Australia, we provide the national voice of the profession in the development, promotion and delivery of quality library and information services, through leadership, advocacy and mutual support. www.alia.org.au
Sue McKerracher, ALIA CEO, M 0404 456 749 T 02 6215 8215 E firstname.lastname@example.org