Australian university union documents damage from Labor ‘education revolution’
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) calls for the return of another Labor led government despite the release of a report that paints a damning picture of the immensely destructive impact of the latest ‘education revolution’ Labor government pro-bargain on Australian public universities for the past decade.
In response to the Liberal-National coalition government’s latest May 11 federal budget, the NTEU urged its members to direct their outrage towards a “change” of government in the next federal election. Implicitly, this means supporting Labor and the Greens, who supported the last Labor government from 2010 to 2013.
The budget slashed university funding by an additional 9.3% in real terms from 2021-2022 to 2024-2025, in addition to devastating income losses and up to 90,000 job cuts in 2020-2021, and d ‘a decade of growing underfunding.
To reinforce its message, the union evokes the prospect of early elections, even if the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has until next May to convene one.
Writing in the May edition of Sentinel, the union’s online magazine, NTEU policy and research director Terri MacDonald said: “With discussions about the possibility of a federal election as early as the second half of the year, the message is clear: if the government does not change its attitude towards higher education, then we have to change this government.
Once again, as it did in 2007, when the NTEU urged support for the Rudd Labor government election, and in every election since, the union is peddling the illusion that another Labor government backed by the Greens would reverse the assault on universities, and public education as a whole.
Yet the NTEU’s pre-budget submission, released ahead of the May 11 budget, admits that successive governments, both Green Labor and Liberal-National, have cut funding per student since 2012. It was then that the Julia Gillard’s last Labor government fully implemented the ‘Demand-Side System’, originally developed when Gillard was Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister to Rudd.
The NTEU submission states: “Since the introduction of the demand-side system (DDS) by the Rudd / Gillard government, both sides of politics have tried to achieve substantial budget savings by targeting higher education.
“In 2013 (just one year after the full implementation of the DDS), the ALP [Australian Labor Party] introduced an efficiency dividend on university education grants, recouping more than $ 900 million.
True to its own record of supporting this Labor-Green government, the NTEU is concealing the extent of the Labor attack. The ‘efficiency dividend’ was only part of the funding cuts under Rudd and Gillard, which totaled $ 3.8 billion when Labor lost office in a landslide in 2013, after that his pro-business agenda has generated hostility throughout the working class.
What the NTEU submission does not mention is that the union fully supported the Rudd-Gillard Project, defending it against exposure and opposition from members and supporters of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) .
The NTEU hailed the election of the Rudd government, saying it would usher in a new progressive era in higher education after 11 years of liberal-national cuts and attacks on the rights of students and university workers. “The union looks forward to working with the new government to clarify what the ‘education revolution’ means for universities,” the NTEU said.
From the start, in 2007, the World Socialist Website warned that this “education revolution”, which targeted public schools as well as higher education, was a “third wave” of economic restructuring in favor of the business elite. As Rudd and Gillard themselves stated, their measures were based on the first two “waves” of privatization and attacks on working class conditions, which were implemented by the Hawke and Keating governments. from 1983 to 1996, in partnership with the unions.
SEP members have consistently fought against the efforts of the NTEU to enforce the demands of the “Demand-Driven System” through enterprise negotiation agreements negotiated with the various university leaderships. They explained that this education market approach forced universities to compete for enrollment in the more lucrative courses, to tailor their educational programs to the needs of employers and to seek other sources of income, including exorbitant fees for international students.
These warnings have proven to be quite correct. As the Labor government lifted limits on college enrollment, it tied all funding to student numbers and froze actual funding per student. This made universities dependent on crowding more students, especially paying international students, into their campuses, but deprived them of the necessary resources.
The “revolution” also accelerated the precariousness of the university workforce. Through company agreements, the NTEU worked with university management to give them the “flexibility” they demanded to be able to open and close classes, semester by semester, in order to capture a greater “share”. Steps “.
After 2013, the current Liberal-National government retained and exploited this framework to escalate aggression against university workers and students. Although it was forced by widespread opposition to drop plans to allow universities to charge unlimited fees to domestic students in 2014, the Coalition has stepped up pressure from the ‘demand-driven system’, including freezing levels funding in 2018 and 2019.
Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government went further by denying financial support to public universities when the COVID-19 pandemic hit their incomes for international students, and by introducing a “Jobs-Ready Graduate” plan. Which further reduces government funding per national student by 14%. , while doubling tuition fees in the humanities.
Statistics from the NTEU submission show that in 2017, the ‘education revolution’ had already led chronically underfunded public universities to rely more on international student fees than on government payments for student enrollments. national students. This process intensified until 2019, the last year before the pandemic, when universities secured nearly $ 10 billion in revenue from tuition fees from international students, compared to about $ 7.5 billion in funding. of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS).
In 2019, some 221,780 people were employed in universities, of which only about one in three had permanent or permanent jobs. Almost one in two (99,492 or 45 per cent) was employed on a casual basis and one in five (45,575 or 20 per cent) had a fixed-term contract. The proportion of precarious staff rose from 60% in 2000 to 65% in 2019.
The largest increases in casual and short-term work have occurred among “teaching only” and “research only” positions, which the NTEU has also facilitated through company agreements. In 2018, only around 15% of academics employed in such roles had secure jobs, compromising previously hard-earned tenure rights for more traditional academics in teaching and research.
In its budget presentation, the NTEU again proposed, as it has been doing since 2015, the adoption of a modified version of the demand-driven system, which would consist of “public accountability agreements” between the government and universities. individual. This framework would seek to give “to individual universities the possibility of pursuing their own missions”.
The proposal would dovetail with the coalition government’s bipartisan agenda and Labor to push universities to specialize in order to better meet the business and professional demands of employers. It would be a new step in the “education revolution”, the gutting and restructuring of universities.
It would also keep academic staff in a straitjacket under the corporate bargaining regime imposed by Keating’s Labor government and unions in the 1990s, dividing workers into individual workplaces and binding them to demands for profit. each competing university direction.
Academics, as well as students, must review these bitter political experiences, assess the record of the NTEU, and draw firm conclusions. There is a central lesson. It is clearly impossible to defend public education without a fundamental break with the totally pro-business NTEU, as well as with the political servants of big business: Labor and Greens.
Around the world, transnational conglomerates and wealthy elites are using the global catastrophe of the pandemic, for which they are themselves responsible, to step up their decades-long offensive against essential working class jobs, conditions and social programs. , including public education and health care.
What is needed is the formation of grassroots staff and student committees, fully independent from all unions, and a turn to other sections of educators and workers in Australia and abroad facing this assault intensified.
Such a struggle requires a socialist perspective that rejects the diktats of the financial markets and fights for the complete reorganization of society for the benefit of all, and not for the soaring profits and accumulation of billionaires’ wealth. This includes stopping massive donations to the corporate elite and providing the tens of billions of dollars needed to establish free, high-quality education, from kindergarten to college, and the basic human right of all workers. from education to full-time employment with decent pay and conditions. .
This is the program put forward by the Committee for Public Education, established by the Socialist Equality Party, as part of the global struggle for the formation of the International Alliance of Workers of Grassroots Committees. We urge anyone who wants to advance this global struggle to contact the Committee for Public Education.