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Issue #1706      October 14, 2015

Uni deregulation delayed not ditched

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) says that the announcement by the Minister for Education, Senator Simon Birmingham, that the federal government has been forced to back down on the introduction of its higher education policies in 2016 is because the reality is they cannot get them through the Senate.

However, NTEU national president Jeannie Rea said the Minister’s announcement amounted to little more than a delay tactic.

“No one should be fooled into thinking that this means the government is abandoning its plans to shift the cost of higher education away from the government and on to the shoulders of students,” said Rea.

“If this government gets its way, there will be funding cuts and significant increases in university fees, as well as public funding made available to private for-profit providers, at the cost of our public universities.

“Fortunately Labor, the Greens and cross bench Senators Xenophon, Lazarus, Lambie, Muir and Wang listened to the public reaction and voted down the government’s unprincipled, unfair and unsustainable legislation.

Rea said that the Minister’s announcement is purely a political ploy aimed at taking the heat off Prime Minister Turnbull by delaying the government’s intention to proceed with its ideologically driven deregulation agenda, which would result in $100,000 degrees as well as encourage the entry of many new private providers more interested in making a profit than providing a high quality education.

“The Minister needs to understand that the Australian public will not accept a public higher education system where some students miss out on a place because other students are prepared to pay a higher price.

“Entry to our public universities must always be based on students’ merit and not their capacity to pay.

“The NTEU agrees with Senator Birmingham that the sector faces three major challenges, namely funding sustainability, quality and access.

“The increasing reliance on casual staff to deliver higher education teaching is an issue which the Minister needs to address if he is serious about improving quality.

“If the Minister is serious about access he should be looking at ways of increasing student income support, not increasing fees through deregulation.”

Meanwhile, Vocational Education (formerly TAFE) teachers at RMIT University in Melbourne took strike action for 24 hours on October 8 in response to university management’s worst offer yet following more than two years of enterprise agreement negotiations.

The NTEU at RMIT says the teachers have been left with no choice but to take action following the university’s appalling handling of the process.

“Teachers were dragged through a non-union ballot last year and then RMIT refused to release the results. The NTEU had to go through Freedom of Information to uncover that teachers voted down management’s ballot by a thumping 72 percent,” said NTEU RMIT branch president Dr Melissa Slee.

“In August of this year, RMIT management went to ballot for a second time with another substandard enterprise agreement. Halfway through the online vote scheduled to last five days, the university stopped the process and declared they wanted to propose a different agreement.

“The only credible explanation is they were about to massively lose a second ballot. As it turns out, following another Freedom of Information request, of those teachers who had a chance to vote, 63 percent voted against management’s offer.

“RMIT’s offer amounts to a 5.1% pay rise over four years. The CPI has increased by 12.4% over the same period. The proposed workload clauses allocate teachers just half an hour preparation for their classes and many teachers are doing 24 hours face-to-face teaching a week which is an outrageously demanding schedule.”

Vocational Education teachers at RMIT also have serious concerns around job security and the increasing prevalence of fixed term contracts. Around 50% of RMIT’s teachers are casually employed. Lack of job security makes it difficult for staff to plan their lives and make long-term financial decisions. In addition the superannuation contribution for Vocational Education teachers is the minimum allowable 9.5% whereas most other staff at RMIT University are on 17%.

“RMIT has a $1 billion annual turnover and made a $71 million profit last year, and RMIT profits have surged in the last few years which means it can offer better pay and conditions for all Vocational Education teachers at RMIT,” said Dr Slee.

Vocational Education teacher and elected representative of teachers at the bargaining table, Dr Olga Lorenzo agreed.

“Management can afford to pay us the same superannuation as they give everyone else in Vocational Education – librarians, IT staff, admin people. They have told us quite bluntly at the bargaining table that teachers are not worth it, which is very insulting. We will win because unfairness and disrespect are never winning strategies in the long run,” said Dr Lorenzo.

“Until RMIT starts taking the concerns of its Vocational Education teachers seriously and makes a fair offer, teachers will be left with little choice but to take industrial action.”

Next article – Vale William Horace (Bill) Langlois

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