Over a thousand Australian professors have signed an open letter asking the federal government to abandon plans for $2.3 billion worth of cuts to the university sector.
The cuts, announced this month as part of a plan to fund the government’s Gonski school reforms, would remove $900 million from university grants and save $1.4 billion by converting student scholarships into loans and removing discounts earned for upfront payment of HECS fees
The letter, which appears in 18 newspapers today, was signed 1007 professors and associate professors from every public and private university in Australia, according to the National Tertiary Education Union.
“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 letter said.
“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.”
The government has created over 150,000 new undergraduate places but failed to boost funding adequately to match the increased student numbers, the letter said.
“For nearly two decades Governments have demanded that university staff do more with less, while massively increasing Government intrusion into teaching and research practices. This cannot continue. We urge you to reverse these cuts.”
Quality of education
Jeannie Rea, National President of the National Tertiary Education Union, said that “the latest cuts bring the amount the Gillard Government has taken out of promised university funding since 2011 to over $4 billion.”
Professor David Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University, said he signed the letter because “there is nothing as fundamental as the quality of education we provide to the community.”
“If we fail to invest adequately in ensuring that Australians have access to the best quality education we can provide, then we are failing our future generations,” he said, adding that Australia risked falling behind other countries in the region, such as Korea, that invested heavily in education.
“If we are to compete, then the Australian government, whatever party is in power, must prioritise education. That is not achieved by pulling money out of one level of education to invest in another.”
Another signatory, Professor Skye McDonald, from the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychology, said she understood the government was facing budgetary pressures but that universities should be adequately funded.
“As an academic, I have always trusted Labor to support public education and the notion they are going to cut university funding to fund other school initiatives is amazing to me,” she said.
“We have high standards of education in Australia and we really need to capitalise on that. Our young, talented students who have potential research careers, for them to go out and discover solutions to so many of life’s problems, they really need to be supported.”