Tag Archives: universities

University funding: drifting to mediocrity?

Andrew Norton from the Grattan Institute says the modest university ‘reforms’ signalled for the budget will entrench the status quo, and will affect universities more than students.

George Morgan says the universities are drifting to mediocrity, and these cuts will not help.

The headline figure is a saving of $2.8 billion over the forward estimates, and a 7.5% increase in student fees over the period. Total Commonwealth Government payments to universities over the next four years amount to of $74bn, so the impact of this $2.8bn reform package is less than 4% of the revenues to universities from taxpayers and students, according to Simon Birmingham. Continue reading University funding: drifting to mediocrity?

Double backflip, with Pyne

Today the obnoxious and juvenile Christopher Pyne has backed away from the threat to make science infrastructure funding contingent on support for the university deregulation bill. The science funding will be continued for 12 months, but it appears that cuts to that funding may be on the agenda. The total funding of $150 million for the 27 facilities employing 1700 people and supporting the work of some 35,000 scientists is small in the context of a budget of $414.8 billion. Any savings would be miniscule.

I believe that Pyne never seriously intended to cut the funds entirely. We have been told that within Cabinet Abbott, Hockey and Macfarlane had reservations about the linkage. Crossbenchers went ballistic. Senator Cory Bernadi was identified as one of the party who was upset. It’s a fair bet that he had plenty of mates.

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb told us on the box that science infrastructure workers were already actively making arrangements to find work elsewhere. The ethics of playing with people’s lives in this way is downright despicable. Moreover irreparable damage would already have been done to Australia’s reputation as a good place to do science.

Now the opportunity arises for Pyne to negotiate university deregulation with the crossbench, free of childish threats and blackmail. So far only Family First Senator Bob Day is on board and he has demanded that course fees charged students be capped at 70% of overseas student course fees.

The basic problem, according to Melbourne University Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis (on the 7.30 Report and the Fin Review), is that university education comes at a price that no-one wants to pay. University education funding is not high in the priorities of Australian voters or politicians. Funding for university teaching, already stripped to the bone by Swan and Gillard, was scheduled now to suffer a further cut of $1.9 billion.

Leaving aside free market ideology, Davis sees the deregulation of fees as the only way to prevent university teaching in Australia from becoming third rate. “Third rate” is not his language, but I think it’s a fair representation of what he said.

Now in a truly surprising second backflip, Pyne has found another $1.9 billion to continue the former rate of funding for the time being. That will tell you how arbitrary and hollow his complaint really was that he couldn’t find $150 million for scientific research infrastructure.

Count me confused, but I’m sure the cuts will reappear down the line, because it’s either that or higher taxes. Davis is right. University education comes at a price that no-one wants to pay.

Saturday salon 7/3

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Cutting funds to assist the homeless

Groups that provide aid to homeless people are set to start making thousands of their staff redundant from next month due to uncertainty over federal funding.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, a funding agreement between the states and territories and the federal government, is set to expire on 30 June, with no assurance from Canberra that the arrangement will continue.

Homelessness agencies have warned that dozens of programs will be axed if the $115m in federal funding ceases, potentially putting the lives of rough sleepers and women fleeing domestic violence at risk.

Canberra public servants can’t even to provide a date for a decision on the funding arrangements.

More than 3,000 staff, who provide support for more than 80,000 homeless people, will be affected. Redundancy notices will start to flow from the end of March.

2. Cutting research infrastructure funding

Above we saw that the Government has no heart. It also has no brains. Christopher Pyne in an indescribably venal move has tied research infrastructure funding to the passage of his higher education reforms.

For reasons that are unclear, the government has singled out the research infrastructure part of the annual A$9 billion science and research budget and is threatening to kill it for the sake of the A$150 million earmarked to keep the infrastructure afloat.

Without looking at the cutting-edge science that the facilities produce, the research facilities support just about every sector of the Australian economy from agriculture, to mining to drug design and medical research.

There are more than 35,000 researchers who use our major research facilities, and these will be progressively locked out as the facilities go off-line. More than 1,700 skilled scientific and support jobs are under threat if the facilities are mothballed. Even now we are seeing the signs of losing the corporate knowledge and erosion of the skilled professional workforce as staff seek more secure career opportunities.

And perhaps worst of all is the sheer waste of more than A$3 billion in capital investment as well as the hard work that has gone into building up new capacity over decades.

Some innovative companies will take their research overseas.

The universities are on their knees begging. Adam Bandt has called it “parliamentary blackmail”. It’s beyond stupid. Words fail!

3. GP Co-payment is ‘dead, buried and cremated’

That’s what Abbott assured us this week. Medicare is still unsustainable, according to the Government, though this is questioned by experts.

Health Minister Sussan Ley says the Government still wants people who can afford to contribute to the cost of their healthcare to do so. Presumably this would mean a rebate indexed according to affordability. Is this practical?

The Government will continue its pause on indexation of Medicare rebates, for GP and non-GP items. This must be wearing thin with doctors. It started with Labor in 2013 and there is no indexation for inflation.

So far bulk billing rates have held up pretty well.

The Minister says she is consulting. There’s also plenty to read at The Conversation on sustainable health spending and Medicare reform generally.

4. Soldiers get 2 per cent pay rise

In another exercise in barnacle scraping, the Government relented partially on defence force pay at a cost of $200 billion over the forward estimates. Jacqui Lambie says they’ve still been dudded by one per cent, it’s still an insult and she is considering her embargo on supporting government legislation.

5. 300 more Australian troops to be sent to Iraq

Australia is to send about 300 more troops to Iraq, to help train the Iraqi army in its fight against Daesh, also known as Islamic State.

Mr Abbott says the contribution is prudent and proportionate and it’s in Australia’s national interest to stop the militant group from inspiring supporters around the world.

The new deployment was quickly supported by Labor, but opposed by the Greens and the Independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Abbott was boasting that he sweats with the troops. He tries to have physical training with them when he is on their bases. He’s certainly pushing the national security issue hard.

Like Wilkie, Bernard Keane at Crikey doesn’t agree with the deployment. He says we are doing what ISIS wants us to do, we are endangering our home security, and in any case the Iraqi armed forces don’t do fighting, they do torturing, murdering and raping Sunni prisoners.

I wonder how much this exercise will cost!