Wasn’t it terrific to see NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes’ strong defence of the value of universities and university education this week? For those who haven’t read his full statement, we’ve included it in this edition.
Last fortnight, the Nick Xenophon Team announced it would not support the Government’s $2.8 billion funding cut to universities and students. The crossbench party’s statement was the final piece in the Senate puzzle on the current legislation. But their statement built on the picture of the last six months – and we applaud every MP and Senator who grappled carefully with the detail of the legislation over that time.
Opposition Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek and universities spokesperson Terri Butler, Greens education spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, and Senator Jacqui Lambie were first out of the blocks when the cuts were unveiled. Senator Derryn Hinch was also on the record in recent months. And, in the final week, One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson voiced her concerns publicly about the impact of the cuts on regional communities. We thank them all. In the wake of the announcement, Universities Australia reiterated our strong desire to work closely with Government in the months ahead and urged it to shelve once and for all the prospect of cuts. We welcome the opportunity to do so with Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who also spoke about the many benefits that international education brings to Australia in a speech to the Senate last fortnight.
In a timely set of observations from across the globe, Kings College London Principal and President Professor Ed Byrne pens an opinion piece for HIGHER ED.ITION. He writes that funding cuts would imperil Australia’s excellent university system, which is rightly the envy of so many other countries.
Over the past six months, at the request of our members, we have marshalled clear evidence that university funding cuts are not in Australia’s interests. And we have reminded all Australians about what is truly at risk. The toll cuts would take on individual universities and their communities. The impact cuts would have on key STEM disciplines at the heart of the Government’s science and innovation agenda. The erosion of university access to Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds. The threat to Australia’s $28.6 billion in export earnings and the vast cultural benefit that flows from educating international students. The damage cuts would inflict on educating Australia’s future workforce and the university research breakthroughs that deliver new sources of income for Australia. And the fact that Australia spends a smaller share of our national income on its public investment in tertiary education than countries like Estonia, Turkey and Latvia. These evidence-based arguments are compelling, as demonstrated by recent polling which showed the majority of voters Australia-wide oppose cuts to university funding.
In the face of this threat, Australian universities spoke as one. And in our momentum-gathering social media campaign – #stopunicuts – people in university communities added their voices. They included UniSA student Chris Mills, from the regional South Australian town of Whyalla, a former steelworker studying for a new career in social work. He wants to help his community through a time of uncertainty as traditional industries face new threats.
Also in this edition, University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen writes that the proposed changes to enabling places in the legislation would have been a “quiet catastrophe”. She fears it would have saddled some of the nation’s most vulnerable students with higher debt.
And University of New England Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan highlights profound changes being wrought in the economies of the world. She writes on how Australia’s universities are reshaping course offerings for people who want to upskill without leaving their job.
Finally, HIGHER ED.ITION also caught up with one of the new chairs of the Universities Australia Executive Women group, Professor Marcia Devlin of La Trobe University, for an interview on the group’s detailed program of work towards gender equity in Australian universities.
We hope you enjoy all of the contributions in this edition.
Until next time,
Professor Margaret Gardner and Belinda Robinson
Chair and Chief Executive