Media speculation has mounted in recent weeks that the Government could seek to inflict backdoor funding cuts on universities without legislation, following the Senate’s refusal to pass its cuts. But almost two in three voters think funding cuts would limit access to university for all Australians.
New polling by highly-respected firm JWS Research – which also conducts research for federal Government Departments – shows 63 per cent of voters say cuts would limit access.
Only around one in ten voters think cuts would not limit access to university for all Australians.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the message from the public and the Senate was clear.
“The Government keeps coming up with creative new ways to cut funding to public universities, but the message from voters remains the same: it’s the wrong decision for Australia’s future,” she said.
“The Senate has been crystal clear on this too, and would quite rightly take a dim view of any bid to go around the legislative protections for higher education funding.”
“They can see what the Government seems unable to: cuts to universities are not what this country needs as we head into an era of stronger global competition and a greater need for higher skills.”
Voters are also opposed to a bid to cut funding without Parliamentary approval to either university research funds or the flagship equity program that supports poorer students to go to university.
Sixty per cent of voters oppose each of those possible backdoor cuts – with even stronger levels of opposition among older voters and regional/rural voters. Almost seven in ten voters aged 55 and over, and the same share of regional and rural voters, oppose backdoor cuts to the equity program – with 69 per cent against such cuts.
And 67 per cent of voters aged 55 and over oppose cuts to research funding.
“While Australia is considering cutting research funding, our economic competitors are doing the opposite,” Ms Robinson said.
“The UK is injecting an extra £2.3bn into research and development to reach their target of spending 2.4 per cent of GDP. Australia can’t afford to disinvest in research that will drive our future economic growth.”
Amid speculation that cuts could also be inflicted by capping funding at 2017 dollars for the next year, Ms Robinson said that would be “a serious mistake for the nation”.
“That would be a blow to both student equity and to the Government’s own innovation and growth agenda,” she said.
“A dollar cap would put budget pressure on universities to limit places in courses that are expensive to teach but vital to our national interest – such as nursing, science, technology, engineering and maths.”
The representative survey of 1,575 Australians was conducted between 24 and 28 November.