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Education and the budget

May 17th, 2009

No group in the community greeted the election of the Rudd government with more enthusiasm and more relief than the higher education and research sector. The Howard government had treated the sector to a decade of ideologically motivated cutbacks combined with a tribal history which reflected, in large measure, the defeats and slights its members had endured as student politicians in the 1970s and 1980s. The number of places for domestic students was effectively frozen for most of the Howard era, reflecting both a desire to pressure the universities into offering full-fee places and a belief that Australia did not really need a more educated workforce.

Rudd’s election on the platform of an Education Revolution offered not only the end of the long-running culture war between the government and the universities but a substantial, and much-needed, increase in funding. Even when the government’s budget delivered little in the way of extra money, most in the sector were willing to wait their turn.

Then came the financial crisis. Having spent billions on physical infrastructure, the government began sending signals that the Education Revolution would have to be postponed again. There was money for new buildings but, it seemed, there might be little left to pay for teachers and researchers to work in them. How did it all turn out on Budget night.

The backdrop to Wayne Swan’s press conference, a banner emblazoned with the slogan ‘Nation Building: Road Rail Ports – Jobs’ was far from promising. In its exclusive focus on concrete it summoned up memories of the failed Japanese response to the economic crisis of the 1990s.

But the picture brightened with Swan’s speech. Each time he talked about infrastructure he was careful to add ‘unis and hospitals’ to the concrete-intensive list on his backdrop. Presumably the government’s message controls were trying to give one signal to TV viewers looking at the visuals, and another, more sophisticated version to those who were listening to, or reading, the words.

Looking at the actual measures in the Budget, the government has promised to make university places available to all qualified students by 2012, meeting a key recommendation of the Bradley Review. And the COAG goal of 90 per cent school completion remains, though the aspirational date of 2015 offers plenty of room for slippage.

There is particularly promising news on innovation, where the recommendations of the Cutler review (and to some extent the 2020 Summit) have been influential. There a 25 per cent increase in this year’s budget, compared to 5 per cent in 2008-09.

And the CPI-based indexation imposed under Howard, which inevitably fell short of the actual rate of increase in the labour costs of research is to be replaced by a wage-based system of indexation. If it sticks, this reform will end the routine erosion in the effective value of research grants over time. On the other hand, it is hard to see how this (and many similar measures) will be consistent with the government’s desire to hold real increases in expenditure to 2 per cent a year after 2010-11.

Overall, the outcome is far better than might have been feared in the light of pre-Budget softening up, even if a fair way short of what might have been hoped for when the government was elected.

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  1. Alice
    May 20th, 2009 at 06:27 | #1

    Ubiquity – I have no intention of drowning out any students voice at uni. My main complaint at uni is they are too quiet on a range of matters that affect them or on the world around them. I would prefer they actually had more of a voice per my comment at 45.

  2. Alice
    May 20th, 2009 at 06:40 | #2

    Ubiquity – Oh and these students are engaged in an unproductive listing of names. Commonly known as witchhunting Ubiquity. Now unless the peoples revolution or the spanish inquisition arrives peopled by young conservative students accyusing me of being left without trial by court or jury (and its my right if I want, to be whatever I want) I have no intention of burning my books just yet. If left wing / labor students did the same thing Id tell them to get back to productive research also. Thats my job – to encourage well written speech and discourse. A list of names wouldnt get a pass in any subject.

  3. Alice
    May 20th, 2009 at 08:20 | #3

    Ubiquity at 50.
    Ill be more precise Ubiquity

    1.These students lists of names is not factually based. Did they ask the lecturers what their politics were? Did they ask if the Lecturers had voted that way always? Were the Lecturers surveyed? No. It is poor non factual and no scientific research based on hearsay and innuendo.

    2. They drew their list from supposed works given to students to study or “topics”. Lecturers would be remiss in their duties if they did not present a range of views to students.

    3. Students have responsibility for their learning. There are such things as libraries. Students are supposed to draw their views from a range of views and be able to understand arguments from a range of sides from which they develop their own argument. It is called academic development. Presenting only one side of any view is narrow despite arguing for one view ultimately, will lose marks (be their argument “left” or “right”). It generates an undeveloped argument that is unlikely to be either clever or persuasive.

    4. The students do not have enough say these days. All students. Yet for conservative students to suggest it is “left” lecturers silencing them is incorrect. The singularly greatest reduction in political expression on uni campuses came from their own political masters. The VSU. I used to like watching debates between left and right student groups. Alas no more. There are no political societies,few debating societies amongst students anymore and many of our political leaders honed their skills in such uni societies. A great shame.

    5. The conservative students would presumably agree with the concept of the individual being “free to choose.” In this instance it appears they, the students, want the freedom to choose the political persuasions of their Lecturers. Yet they do not recognise the ability of academics to choose their own political persuasion. That is hypocrisy.

    6. In no job description, either public sector or private sector, are you asked your politics or your religion. This adds to my argument that individuals are “free to choose” their own politcal persuasions despite, what is quite likely to be a relatively small group of students, deciding they have the right to determine the politics of their teachers. If that is the case I suggest they lobby for an institution where conservative political persuasion is a requirement on the job application form and go there to study.

  4. Ernestine Gross
    May 20th, 2009 at 09:20 | #4

    Ubiquity @50,

    As far as I am concerned, you are floggig a dead horse with your ‘bias toward the Democrats in the humanities’.

    As far as I remember, J. Carter is a scientist by education and he definitely was a Democratic President in the USA.

    President G.W. Bush, to the best of my knowledge, does not have a science background.

  5. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2009 at 09:33 | #5

    The whole idea of “bias” is the problem here. Far fewer scientists than American non-scientists are likely to believe in creationism. Far fewer economists than American non-economists are likely to believe that cutting taxes will increase revenue. Far fewer social scientists than Americans in general are likely to believe that abstinence-only sex education is likely to be effective.

    For these and other reasons, academics are less likely than Americans in general to support the Republican Party. Educated people in general oppose Republicans for obvious reasons, even though it is, broadly speaking, against their financial self-interest to do so.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/109156/Obama-Retains-Strength-Among-Highly-Educated.aspx

    This is bias only in the well-known sense that reality is biased.

  6. Ubiquity
    May 20th, 2009 at 11:21 | #6

    Alice @53

    In regard to your fourth point:

    “4. The students do not have enough say these days. All students. Yet for conservative students to suggest it is “left” lecturers silencing them is incorrect. The singularly greatest reduction in political expression on uni campuses came from their own political masters. The VSU. I used to like watching debates between left and right student groups. Alas no more. There are no political societies,few debating societies amongst students anymore and many of our political leaders honed their skills in such uni societies. A great shame.”

    Why is that ? Do you think it has something to do with the greater intolerances the left and right have for each other. Perhaps in our busy convuluted state dependent / moderated society we have no time for this type of essential dialogue. We are to busy juggling our proffesional lives, family lives, civil and state obligations.

  7. Ubiquity
    May 20th, 2009 at 11:38 | #7

    @56

    Perhaps there are no more conservatives to debate with ?

  8. David Irving (no relation)
    May 20th, 2009 at 13:18 | #8

    Ubiquity @ 50, I’m not sure that conflating “Democrat” with “ideological left” makes a lot of sense. I’d regard the Democrats as being much like the Republicans, but with shorter boots. They’re both well to the right of where I stand.

  9. David Irving (no relation)
    May 20th, 2009 at 13:23 | #9

    Ubiquity @ 50 – I just noticed the (unintentional?) irony in your last paragraph. Surely the main complaint of the right about university Humanities departments is that they are infested with post-modernists who deny the possibility of absolute truth.

    You need to get your talking points straight, pal.

  10. David Irving (no relation)
    May 20th, 2009 at 13:30 | #10

    Ubiquity @ 50 (again! I’m surprised you have any toes left), about 10 years ago I worked as a gofer for an academic in the geography dept at Adelaide Uni (part of the Arts faculty). It had a fair few post-modernists and marxists, so it certainly matches your stereotype. However, one of the senior lecturers was very conservative – always voted Liberal.

    Ironically, he was one of the first victims of the Howard-induced uni staff cutbacks. However, he had been a highly-valued member of the department.

  11. Ubiquity
    May 20th, 2009 at 13:38 | #11

    David.. ! I’ll sharpen my pencil and keep my toe nails trimmed.

  12. Alice
    May 20th, 2009 at 21:17 | #12

    Re 56 Ubiquity – I dont know. Maybe it is because people dont have time…. I really genuinely would like to see left right debates between students back on campus…I like the fire Ubiquity (of youth whatever their political views…).

    Call it selfish….or just an old woman…who would like to see idealism and inspiration in uni students on fire again. I dont like the market model that has pervaded unis, silenced the students and is treating them as fee paying consumers or clients. Its really really really boring! I dont care if they are left or right… what I want is to see them care!

  13. Alice
    May 20th, 2009 at 21:28 | #13

    56 Ubiquity re your comment

    “Do you think it has something to do with the greater intolerances the left and right have for each other. Perhaps in our busy convuluted state dependent / moderated society we have no time for this type of essential dialogue. We are to busy juggling our proffesional lives, family lives, civil and state obligations.”

    I agree. The elegance of the debates between left and right has gone…the essential dialogue, as you suggest is missing…the ability to engage and debate (without slurs, sithout insults, without cacophany) the other side. That takes consideration and time..

  14. May 27th, 2009 at 19:23 | #14

    Ubiquity @56
    “Why is that ? Do you think it has something to do with the greater intolerances the left and right have for each other. Perhaps in our busy convuluted state dependent / moderated society we have no time for this type of essential dialogue. We are to busy juggling our proffesional lives, family lives, civil and state obligations.”

    Personally I think its a number of things which the Howard government instigated, the cutting back of student services, less university funding and higher fees, a housing boom and the subsequent inflation which substantially raised students’ living costs and finally his relentless promotion of materialistic aspirational ideals.
    When you add it all up it means less time on campus and more time waiting tables.

  15. Alice
    May 30th, 2009 at 13:29 | #15

    Shane64#

    Yes unfortunately I noticed the word “state dependent” in Ubiquity’s comment at 56 a little too late. I think the “state” under Howard, who didnt think much of academia, our universities or our academics is responsible for the increasing commercialism of our universities at the same time as an anorexic approach to funding was applied. And you said

    “When you add it all up it means less time on campus and more time waiting tables.”

    If anyone by now doesnt realise that students have it tough these days (really tough) and to come out of overcrowded classrooms and campuses with their degree and a debt sufficient (if they actually still owned it) to make a deposit on a roof of their own is pretty damn unreasonable.

    I dont know how the children of the less well off can afford uni these days (and pay rent and support themselves). Nor do I understand how foreign student children of the less well off manage to survive here (Ive known quite a few who couldnt despite their families saving the equivalent of a years salary to get them here).

    Further, the services students dont get on campus anymore is obvious thanks to Brendan Nelsons ideological blindspot on unions that gave him the impetus to attack the least able to defend itself and innocuous “students associations” on campus (tragic little missive to the CFMEU was it? Why ddidnt he fight a union worth fighting of he felt that strongly about it?) that made campus life enjoyable for students for decades. Students associations alos gave students a voice the upper echelons had to listen to occasionally (as well as childcare, decent subsidised food on campus, recreational activities like dances, and social workers and student advocates for personal or academic problems).

    Now they dont get listened to by Uni managements (or much less). They just get charged fees and unis have become detached from students real needs. (Happy to take the money though).

    Really that was truly and utterly pathetic of Dr Nelson, like calling members of a lawn bowlers associations “unions” and banning them meeting in public!

    I feel sorry for many uni students these days. Many of them leave overcrowded impersonal uni cowbarns clutching their “business” degrees to find its worth only a clerical entry position and anything better will take another 5 to 8 years of self funded study with a multitude if institutions offering to relieve them of yet more fees for a vast array of postgrad, certificate, “two week” or even one “diplomas” (oversupply) and the many foreign students are even less likely to get those entry level jobs.

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