By Matteo Gagliardi
Unless you’re one of those students that doesn’t check your student emails, you would have noticed we were all sent a rather out-of-the-ordinary message recently from our Vice Chancellor, David Lloyd, about the Government’s proposed funding cuts to higher education.
If you didn’t see it, or merely overlooked it, Professor Lloyd’s email is extremely important in the context of your student life, particularly if you’re a new student or are going to be at uni for a long time to come. This makes it less surprising that it was sent by the Vice Chancellor himself.
The Government’s funding cuts will have huge implications for universities across the country, along with their staff and students, many of whom have participated in widespread rallies over the cuts this past week.
It will remove as much as $2.8 billion away from tertiary education to pay for the Gonski reforms on public schools, a move which has been described by commentators as “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Of that amount, universities face cuts totalling around $900 million. Meanwhile, students will be directly affected through the removal of the 10 per cent discount they’ve been receiving if they paid their fees upfront, and the requirement to pay back Student Start-up Scholarships, along with the possibility of increased tuition fees caused by budgetary pressures on universities.
While recognising the importance of the Gonski reforms and the budget difficulties facing the Government, Professor Lloyd still expresses his discontent with the funding cuts in his email.
“[G]iven that education is clearly a continuum the cuts to higher education are particularly disappointing, especially coming on top of reductions to research funding which affected us late last year,” Professor Lloyd argues.
He points out that UniSA is preparing for a worst case scenario, estimating the impact on the university will “be in the region of $11 [million] over the next two years – a substantial figure”.
“I assure you that we will do everything we can to prevent this adversely affecting our teaching and research activities,” he says.
“We will obviously have to look at efficiencies in our operations and we will engage on how best to realise these in due course.”
Naturally, UniSA isn’t the only university facing major costs. According to the University of Adelaide’s Vice Chancellor, Warren Bebbington, it too is staring down drastic budget cuts.
On his blog, Professor Bebbington projects a loss of $4.6 million next year, followed by $7.5 million each year after that.
However, his position on the cuts seem more forgiving and calculated. While disappointed the cuts will hit universities hard in the short term, Bebbington believes more funding in the childhood education sector will prove beneficial for higher education in the long term.
“The Gonski vision for schools is very sound and should be applauded by all who believe in quality education for every child. The vision is noble, wise, enduring policy. And it resonates strongly in the Australian community,” Bebbington writes.
“Taking a longer-term view, better prepared school students will go on to become better prepared university graduates in the future.
“Universities should always be in the front row arguing beside parents, teachers and employers for a stronger education system.”
Professor Bebbington assures Adelaide Uni students the university will not drop entrance standards and enrol more students to cover the funding gaps, a trend he doesn’t want other universities to fall into.
“An arbitrary system-wide funding cut however will not address the problem of inflating student numbers: indeed, it may force some universities to expand enrolments even more, just to meet their budget obligations,” he says.
“This would mean even more admissions of ill-prepared, low-ATAR students.
“The worst thing we could do for students and the wider community would be to funnel young people into a university course that will subsequently set them up to fail.
But students and staff alike at the rally protesting the funding cuts next to Adelaide Uni’s Bonython Hall last week were much less sympathetic to the cuts. The speakers at the event included representatives of Adelaide Uni’s Student Representative Council, the National Union of Students, the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Education Union. All these organisations are angered by the cuts, despite their support of the Gonski reforms.
In any case, the cuts won’t worry graduating university students, or those coming towards the end of their degrees, unless they have to pay back their Start-up Scholarships.
In fact, departing students will leave having enjoyed massive increases in funding to universities throughout their time at uni. The Labor Government boasts having increased the funding 52.6 per cent from $3.8 billion in 2007 to $5.9 billion in 2012.
Additionally, Julia Gillard claims the cuts won’t deter funding growth, but will only decrease the rate of growth, and should be viewed in the context of the Government’s planned overall longer-term education reform.
This doesn’t make the potential short-term sacrifices of current university students and staff-members any more sufferable though. Making the situation worse is the fact that the Opposition hasn’t released its plan regarding higher education funding and is likely to want to deregulate it as much as it can. This is hardly a better alternative.
Professor Lloyd says in his email that he wants UniSA students to participate in the planning process on how the university can act to achieve its ambitions despite the imminent cuts.
Coincidentally, UniSA has been organising a massive online conversation to give students a say in how the university can act to achieve its Horizon 2020 goals, which is now even more relevant given these funding shortages.
Keep checking in to UniLife Magazine for more news on the event.
For further details on the funding cuts and what they mean for you, visit the Government’s Q and A on the issue.