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Issue #1592      May 8, 2013

“Reverse the cuts”

Open letter from academics and scientists at universities around Australia

Dear Prime Minister

As Professors and Associate Professors in Australian universities we are deeply concerned by the recently announced $2.3 billion cut in federal budget allocations to the university sector (comprising $900 million from university grants and $1.4 billion from the abolition of student scholarships for disadvantaged students and the removal of HECS fee discounts). Combined with the 2011 and 2012 decisions to cut research funding ($500 million) and teaching and learning support ($600 million), these recent Budget changes mean that your government has taken over $4 billion out of the Federal Budget allocations for universities.

We cannot reconcile these decisions with Labor’s Platform commitment to “steadily increase… national investment… to at least maintain the value of public funding for teaching and research in universities”, and they are at odds with the promises made by your government in the lead up to, and immediately following the 2010 federal election. Universities have made by far and away the largest saving contributions of any Federal Budget line item. We feel betrayed and taken for granted.

Our universities are central to Australia’s economic and social future. We are training the future generations of Australia’s knowledge economy (including scientists, engineers, nurses, doctors, teachers, IT workers and financial analysts), and providing the basic and applied research which underpins innovation and improvement in many spheres – from the application of biomedical discoveries to new disease treatments and cures to the use of new materials and processes in our manufacturing and energy intensive industries. And as Labor has acknowledged, our universities are central to Australia’s growing relationship with the Asia Pacific region and the wider globalised economy.

Your government’s cuts fundamentally jeopardise the future of our sector. Our universities are at tipping point – core funding per student and support for basic research continue to decline while Australian students now pay some of the highest public university fees in the world. The Bradley (2009) and Lomax-Smith (2012) reviews made a compelling case for big increases in base funding per student, which your government has chosen to ignore, notwithstanding that Australia’s public university investment is well below the OECD average.

While your government has created over 150,000 new undergraduate places, the expansion is eroding the quality of teaching and research because it has not been properly funded. In combination with changes to student income support and HECS fees, your funding cuts will diminish the educational opportunities for our most disadvantaged young people and undermine the quality of their learning experience.

For nearly two decades governments have demanded that university staff do more with less, while massively increasing government intrusion in teaching and research practices. This cannot continue.

We urge you to reverse these cuts.   

Next article – PSA will fight pay cut

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