Monday, 6 May 2013

Dumb cuts

In response to the federal government announcement that university funding would be cut by $2.3 billion, Jeannie Rea from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) wrote to members on April 15 as follows:
While the NTEU welcomes the school education reforms, this should not come at the cost of public investment in universities and support for higher education students. The announcement of a $900 million direct cut to university funding is a further blow to universities who have copped cuts each time the Government has sought to make budget savings.
As a member of the NTEU it is hard to disagree with that. The dumbcuts website encourages members to email the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Education Minister Craig Emerson expressing opposition to the funding cuts, and requests that members
...send us any feedback you have about the funding cuts and NTEU's response. We will continue to develop and update the campaign web site over the coming weeks.
I replied to Jeannie as follows:
It must be clear to everyone, especially after this announcement, that the Labor party will not be re-elected when the election is held later this year. So spending time and effort to get them to reverse these cuts, which will not apply until 2014, is likely to be a waste of time and effort. 
What is most important instead is for the NTEU to obtain a commitment now from the Liberal party that they will reverse these cuts. I expect that, instead, the Liberals will say that they will not commit to reversing the cuts upon gaining power until the full state of the budget is known. 
Such a response would be unacceptable, so all possible powers of persuasion—from the NTEU and Universities Australia—should be put to bear on the Liberals to secure reversal of the cuts as a core election promise.
So far I have received no response from Jeannie or the NTEU.

On April 30, in a speech on innovation and research at Monash University, the Opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, warned that the sector would potentially struggle to maintain quality provision. But he gave no sign that the opposition in government would do anything to reverse the cuts. As reported in Pyne sitting on spending cut fence, he signalled that
...the Coalition would seek to cut bureaucracy, and that research funding should be "commensurate" with its importance to the economy. 
and that cutting the deficit remained the priority:
Providing more money for research is something that is much easier to do when the budget is in surplus and the nation's net public debt has been paid off.
On May 1, An open letter to the Prime Minister from Australian Professors and Associate Professors, protesting at the cuts appeared as a full page newspaper advertisement in The Australian and 18 metropolitan and regional newspapers. Unfortunately, I think this advertisement also misses the point; it really should be addressed to the Liberal party.

On May 6, in an update to members, the NTEU wrote:
As the already announced September 14 election approaches, we need to make the quality and funding of Australian universities a visible public issue. The Labor Government is assuming that university staff will not speak up about its cuts because the university funding policies of any future Coalition government are likely to be worse. Labor needs to know that the support of university staff cannot be taken for granted.
I don't follow this. Just because Universities fear what the Coalition will do—and Pyne has already given an indication of that—does not mean they will not speak up. However, the problem is this; Academics now have no real choice when voting in September. A vote for Labor would mean funding cuts to universities, and vote for the Liberals would mean a (likely bigger) funding cut. But in either scenario, the focus should be on Abbott and Pyne, not Gillard and Emerson.
We are demanding that politicians act to reverse Labor’s latest cuts when the Federal Budget Bills are considered in the Parliament later in June.
Good luck with that. Labor has proposed cuts, which the Liberals support, so where will the pressure on either party come from? Labor may think that the School funding, diverted from universities, will boost its support in some sectors, but I expect that it will do little to change the election outcome, which will be a wipe-out for Labor.

Disclosure: the author is an employee of UWA, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.

1 comment:

  1. If the coalition are really determined to return the budget to surplus, then maybe they won't win the next election. Just how they will achieve a balanced budget is too scary to contemplate.