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Freezing university funding is out of step with the views of most Australians

Margaret Gardner writes in The Conversation (28.2.18) that the federal government's freeze on university funding not only limits opportunities for students, but it puts limitations on the communities that universities serve, on the economy, and on business interested in forming collaborations.

'When Australia decided in 2009 to uncap university places, educational opportunity was to be matched to the knowledge demands of the future. It was a bold advance – and one supported by both sides of politics.

'Since that time, we have seen 55% growth in enrolments from the poorest fifth of Australian households, 48% growth for regional and rural students, 89% for Indigenous students and 106% growth for students with a disability.

'This expansion of opportunity is why we cannot accept the freeze on university funding inflicted last December. That freeze inflicts a cut of A$2.2 billion on Australia’s universities and the communities they serve.

'The university funding freeze is really a cap on opportunity. And it will limit the share of the highly-skilled, well-paid jobs in our economy that can be done by qualified Australians in the decades ahead.

'... So when we hear commentators suggest that university education is now extended to too many people, we should be clear such views are really about reducing opportunity for some Australians.

'Whose children, relatives or partners are they suggesting should not have this chance? Not only are such views out of step with our global economic competitors, they’re also out of step with the views of the overwhelming majority of Australians.'

Why is the Australian government letting universities suffer?

Gavin Moodie writes in The Conversation (19.5.20) about the federal government's refusal to extend Covid-19 employment support measures to universities and their staff, suggesting it forms part of the wider 'culture wars' backlash against the higher education sector.

'On March 30, the federal government announced JobKeeper – a A$130 billion wage subsidy for employees to limit the economic devastation of COVID-19. Employers are eligible for the A$1,500 a fortnight payment to staff if the business’ revenue had fallen over a specified period by 30% or 50%, depending on their size.

'This excluded most universities. But the government soon announced the threshold for JobKeeper would be lowered to 15% for charities, giving hope to universities, which are not-for-profit organisations. That is, until the government clarified “this lower turnover decline test does not apply to universities”.

'And while some universities were still eligible by their calculations, the government made two other changes to JobKeeper that seemed targeted at ensuring university staff couldn’t get any help from the government. This is despite Universities Australia’s estimate around 21,000 jobs will be lost.

'While the government has provided some help to universities in the form of its higher education relief package – which guarantees funding for domestic students already budgeted for – it won’t fill the gap in revenue lost due to international students.

'This will likely result in mass staff lay-offs and may risk some universities’ financial viability. It will also severely curtail Australia’s research capacity. So, why has the Australian government taken successive steps specifically to exclude universities from its business continuity funding?'

 

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