Labor’s $2.8 billion of university cuts will remain, though their composition may change, confirmed new Higher Education Minister Kim Carr last month. Snubbing student and staff demands to scrap the cuts altogether, Carr bent over backwards to appease campus bosses and their lobby group Universities Australia.
By Kirk Leonard, Socialist Party
Originally announced as part of the federal budget, Labor’s plans included direct funding cuts, the abolition of discounts on course fees paid up front, and the conversion of a student welfare payment into a loan.
In an act of robbing Peter to pay Paul the money taken from the university sector was supposed to be used to fund the Gonski plan for schools. Gonski locks in a line of funding to private schools and lays the basis for future changes which would open the way for shonky for-profit operators to compete against government schools.
A similar process has already developed in the TAFE sector where public institutions have been decimated and dodgy private operators have flourished.
Staff and students began campaigning against the attack immediately recognising it would lead to job losses and lower teaching standards. Universities Australia also launched a campaign publicly criticising the government, though with a completely different interest.
Upon Rudd’s resurrection Carr began trying to repair the Government’s relationship with Universities Australia. They wanted to put an end to their criticisms which were damaging their reputation. Carr ruled out scrapping the dollar figure of cuts claiming he “couldn’t dip into a pool of money that isn’t there”.
Instead Carr offered the university Vice Chancellors the opportunity to present him with an alternative cuts plans – ideas like reducing enrolment numbers have already been flagged.
Carr’s claim that there is no money to maintain university funding is bogus. The truth is that modern Labor only represents corporate interests, and this determines their budget choices. For example the government subsidises the super-profitable mining industry to the tune of $4 billion a year, roughly the same amount they have cut from higher education since 2011.
At the same time they refuse to even look at tax increases that could target the super-profits of the major banks to fund quality public education that is accessible to all.
While the May 14 budget day protests staged around the country were a good start, they were not enough to make Labor sit up and take notice of the staff and students. Protests and industrial action must be escalated if we want to force the government to back down.
The August 20 national day of action being built by student activists is a good initiative to focus around. It should be built for by on universities and in high schools and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) should announce stop work action to coincide with the protests.
Cowering acceptance of Labor’s cuts now will only embolden whoever forms the next government. Whatever minimal stylistic differences exist between the two major parties, they both agree on the overarching plan of commodifying education and opening it to profiteers.
Both now and in the long term staff and students must totally reject the disastrous market ‘logic’ of the major parties. Instead we need to base our movement on an alternative vision of how education could be funded and run in the context of a different kind of society.
By bringing the dominating sectors of the economy into public ownership, and democratically planning them in the interests of people, we could use the wealth that they generate to provide a decent standard of living to all. In turn, arming our movement with these ideas will give us the best chance of ending the major parties cut back agenda.