Attend the national student strike on May 14
Last month federal Tertiary Education Minister Craig Emerson announced a further $2.8 billion in cuts to funding for higher education. This is on top of over $2 billion of cuts to tertiary education funding over the last six months. University staff and students will be directly affected by this latest round of cuts with increased class sizes, staff lay-offs and more expensive degrees.
By Socialist Party reporters
$900 million will be taken out of universities over the next two years through so-called ‘efficiency dividends’. Student Start-up Scholarships will be turned into loans, adding over $6,000 to student debt for a 3 year undergraduate degree. The discount for paying course fees upfront will also be abolished.
The average public investment in tertiary education in advanced countries is 1% of GDP. In Australia only 0.7% of GDP goes towards higher education, with the majority of money coming from private sources like student fees, rather than public spending. This places Australia 25th on the list of 29 advanced countries, with investment 30% lower than the average. The tertiary education sector is in desperate need more public funding, not less.
The latest cuts are part of the ongoing agenda to turn education into a for-profit, user-pays industry run on a business model. The Labor government has tried to justify the tertiary cuts by claiming the savings will pay for the Gonski reforms to school education. These reforms are themselves a step towards the further privatisation of public education, cementing public funding for private schools. Under the Gonski reforms private schools are set to receive a further $2.5 billion in public funding, despite remaining exclusive for students from wealthier backgrounds.
We need to reject the idea that different levels of education need to compete against each other for funding, whilst also rejecting the push towards privatised education. If the biggest profiteers in the country – the mining bosses, the big banks and the casinos – had their super-profits taxed at a higher rate there would be more than enough public money available to fund free, quality public education for all. The mining bosses alone receive around $4 billion per year in taxpayer subsidies – more than the recent government cuts to tertiary education.
A number of ‘stakeholders’ in the education sector – University administrators, staff unions and students unions – have stated that cutting university funding to fund schools ‘doesn’t make sense’. Unfortunately, it makes perfect sense to a government hell-bent on furthering the marketisation of tertiary education. The goal of both major political parties is to facilitate the growth of a profitable, market based tertiary education sector funded on a user-pays basis. The accessibility, diversity and quality of education will inevitability continue to fall by the wayside as business competitiveness is prioritised.
If students and staff are to defeat the plans of both major parties to treat education as a commodity, rather than a right, collective action is required. Joint strike action from the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union), NUS (National Union of Students) and the AEU (Australian Education Union), inclusive of high school students, would show both Gillard and Abbott that we are serious about our right to quality public education from pre-school to university or TAFE.
While we desperately need to build a movement of students and staff against education cuts, we also need to fight for a political alternative to the pro-business policies of the major political parties. Only a democratically planned socialist economy based on human need – not private profit – would prioritise the provision of free, quality education across the board.