No: 4

Winter 2003

Education cutbacks

by John Bailey
Since 1996 Federal Government Higher Education policy has been premised on funding cuts and deregulation. This has accelerated a user-pays system in which education is treated as a private commodity.

In 1997 universities were granted powers to introduce up-front fees for 25 percent of student places. A number of universities, prominently the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), voted against up-front fees after student protests and occupation of administration offices.

The immediate consequences of the 2003/4 Federal budget, if passed, will be to increase student fees by up to 30 percent. This is at the discretion of the individual university rather than implemented uniformly by government.

The result will be discrepancies in the quality of university education. It will encourage universities to generate their own income via the "student-pays" system and private sources of income.

This will further exlude poor and working-class students and make tertiary education a privilege of the rich.


In the 2003/4 Federal budget there was no increase in funding at all for TAFE. The NSW State budget went further and delivered a decrease in real terms. The funding for TAFE was increased by a measly 0.69 percent and this figure includes extra revenue from student fees. In fact for the first time the State Government has used the word "fees" to describe what was previously known (euphemistically) as "administration charges".

This real reduction in TAFE funding by the state Labor Govern-ment is to be accompanied by a restructure in which over 1000 TAFE employees in the non-teaching areas face redundancy.

As a result of this budget TAFE fees will rise dramatically. In some cases by 300 per cent. Moreover, there will no longer be fee-exempt courses in the Access and Equity area, which will prevent the most disadvantaged groups being able to access TAFE courses.

As a percentage of total Vocational Education and Training operating revenue, the Commonwealth contribution has declined from 25 percent to less than 20 percent. Forcing TAFE colleges to compete with private colleges for education funding has further redirected public funds into private hands.

Due to these policies there has been a real reduction in funding for public TAFE systems. This has resulted in fewer courses being offered by TAFE and pressure to lower the salaries and working conditions of TAFE employees.

Public Schools

Since the advent of the Howard Government in 1996 there has been a massive shift in funding away from public schools to private schools. The Commonwealth Government in its latest budget allocated more funding to private schools than to Universities.

This government funding means that Catholic schools are able to spend an average of 15.2 per cent more on each student than state schools can, and other private schools can spend 52.2 per cent more.

However, there are other forms of subsidies to private schools, which many people are not aware of. Contributions to building funds are tax deductible. So the purchase of property and addition of new buildings are in reality paid for by taxpayers.

Moreover, as "charities" private schools do not have to pay council rates. Ratepayers are subsidising rich private schools by paying higher rates.

Many private school students travel long distances to get to their elitist school of choice. The State Government foots the bill for this by allowing them to travel free on public transport.

The attacks on public education will require students, staff and the community to demand not only reinstating funding and reducing fees, but preserving student and staff democracy on campuses and the very essence of education's social utility and rights.

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