History: Nest of Traitors
Interview: A Nation of Hope
Unions: National Focus
Safety: The Shocking Truth
Tribute: A Comrade Departed
History: Working Bees
Education: The Big Picture
International: Static Labour
Economics: Budget And Fudge It
Technology: Google and Campaigning
Review: Secretary With A Difference
Poetry: The Minimale
Satire: Howard Calls for Senate to be Replaced by Clap-O-Meter
The Locker Room
To the Victors The Spoils
The Story in General
Thinking of America
The Big Picture
Mike Donaldson wirtes:
The higher education industry is very big business. In export dollars alone, it earns more than wheat and wool and manufacturing, and is second only to minerals.
The global market is mainly untapped. There are 40 universities in Australia. The 1,700 universities in China absorb only 10% of student demand in that country alone. The market is huge and $billions are at stake.
Global corporations operate on much longer time horizons than unions do, and have a much clearer picture of the future. For well more than a decade, they have been planning investment strategies in growth areas of the economy.
In order for them to access the higher education growth area of the economy, two key changes had to occur - capital had to turn education into a commodity and a market for higher education had to be created.
Firstly, students and their families had to be habituated into paying for their education. Education could no longer remain "free". This process was begun in 1996 by the Labor Government with the introduction of the HECS system - which is a use now pay later system of fees. It was deepened by the Conservatives who consistently drove the HECS charges up.
They also introduced "full fee" education for overseas students, while cutting down on Government funding. Overseas students pay the full cost of their education upfront plus more. Predictably, universities hurled themselves at overseas full-paying student to make up for the shortfall in Government funding. The first seeds of fully-fledged market in education were planted.
In the next step, the Government opened up full fee places to domestic students, arguing that if foreign students could buy an education in Australia, so should Australians students be able to. Currently 50% of the places in Australian universities are available to students prepared to pay over $100,000 for a degree. These people have the money but not the grades to get into university. Then they whacked HECS up to decrease the disparity between HECS places and full fee places
At the same time, underfunding has meant that there are now 33,000 Australian students who want to get into university, but for whom there is no place.
So, a market has now been created. Education now has a price, students are habituated to paying it and demand for education outstrips supply.
Into this gap, step the private corporations. Rupert Murdoch began sniffing around the industry as early as 1999, and there are now more than ten companies seeking access to this lucrative market in NSW alone.
But still there are two bodies that stand in the way of this corporate grab, and in this budget Nelson and Abbott are attempting to eliminate them; one is the power of the State Parliaments and the other is trade unions.
Firstly, since universities are created by State Acts of Parliament, the Federal Government needs to weaken their control, and one step in that process is to remove parliamentary representation from university Governing bodies. That is why I am asking that Labour Council to organise a meeting with the State Education Minister.
Secondly, the Government wants to remove the other barrier to the new market by simply banning student unions altogether, and by tying funding to the introduction to AWAs and by removing the right of higher education workers to take industrial action. Removing the right of higher education workers to take industrial action of course, will not remain peculiar to those workers or that industry, in fact the higher education industry is just the thin end of the wedge.
According to a report issued by Brendan Nelson last year,
An amendment will be made to the Workplace Relations Act to amplify the power of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to end protected industrial action, by requiring the AIRC to take particular account of the welfare of people who are clients of health, community services or education systems, including students. (Section 8.2 Our Universities: Backing Australia's Future).
That is, the proposed changes are about reducing the rights of nearly two million Australian workers in the education, health and community services industries. Nurses, school teachers, health workers, ambulance drivers and most public servants will have their ability to take legitimate industrial action severely curtailed.
Tony Brown writes
Nelson's Budget: A Smidgen For Higher Education, Less For TAFE
The real news of the education budget is that this year universities will receive a miniscule $152m increase out of a total education budget of $4.3billion, private schools will receive more money than universities, and there are no new funds for vocational education and training, or adult education.
Brendan Nelson risks being seen as David Kemp with an earring. Beneath that smooth appearance lays the same agenda of smashing student unions, waging a battle with the NTEU over individual contracts, extending the market into higher education, and transferring money to private schools. With this budget the Commonwealth now spends more money on private schools ($A4.37billion) than it does for universities ($A4.31bilion).
Kemp's term as Minister was a failure as his narrow agenda meant that the important steps needed to upgrade Australia's universities in response to new knowledge demands went unattended. The possibility is that once again the issues of extending participation, stimulating research and fostering new learning will be ignored as the universities become a new industrial waterfront.
The sugar coating around this pill is some new targeted funds for indigenous students, an increased number of scholarships, and a small grant for regional universities. But these are distractions from the core purposes of the budget, which are to shift the cost from the state to the individual and to extend price competition into courses. The only long term benefit of this change is that the new higher student fees will go to the universities rather than the government.
De-regulating fees will extend the private school tradition into universities. The likely impact will be that universities that can, will charge as much as they are allowed for high demand courses and the other universities will be forced to either offer cut price courses to attract those the elite universities won't take, or drop the courses altogether. Inevitably this will result in a renewed two-tier university system. It won't be long before a student's future job prospects will depend as much on the campus they attended as what they learnt or are capable of.
A new waterfront?
The budget sets the ground for a new bitter industrial fight. An additional $402 million will be available over four years, IF, universities can demonstrate they have complied with the government's workplace relations policies. Universities will be 'encouraged' to introduce flexible working arrangements focussing on 'direct relationships with employees' and the government will give another $55m for this. The NTEU will either have to organise its members to resist the spread of individual workplace agreements or else abandon its successful and member-supported co-ordinated bargaining campaigns.
Yet another attack on the universities limited democratic governance will be the proviso that university councils must be restructured to reduce staff and student representation. However, as most university councils are established by Acts of State Parliaments this is likely also to be a source of dispute, this time between governments.
Vocational and adult education
But what of the 1.7 million students who attend vocational education and training (VET)? Even though there are nearly three times as many VET as university students (660,000) the budget does not provide any more money than had been previously announced. A new agreement between the Commonwealth and States worth $1.1 billion is to be negotiated and is conditional on the States agreeing to increase User Choice policies, in other words open up more funds to private providers, as well as other programs for which they will not receive sufficient funds.
For the more than 600,000 adults pursuing their studies or learning needs through the adult and community education (ACE) sector the government does not provide any additional funds at all.
More than 70% of young people do not go to university after school. Many attend TAFE, but millions say they are done with learning. Without schemes specifically targeted at encouraging adults to continue their learning the costs to them as individuals as well as to their families and society will grow and be felt in later years. In today's world the need to keep learning is vital.
This year is the first in the UN's Literacy Decade, yet over 40% of Australian adults do not have the literacy and numeracy skills needed for a sophisticated technological society. There is an urgent need to tackle these problems, yet the Budget ignores
The budget's allocations make very clear Nelson's education priorities. Those who have missed out on education as children or young adults can expect little more than crumbs from the Coalition. There is nothing in this budget to show that Nelson has much commitment to developing a broad learning society.
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