BRENDAN NELSON’S legislation to fundamentally restructure higher education along free market lines was passed on the final sitting day of the Senate in December.
The package was passed by a single vote due to a dirty deal between Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, One Nation’s Len Harris and the three Independents Meg Lees, Brian Harradine and Shayne Murphy.
HECS fees will be deregulated with universities given the power to increase HECS by 25 per cent. There will be a 40 per cent increase in cap on the number of full fee paying undergraduates.
It will become much easier for private institutions to be set up and receive public funding, the minister will get unprecedented powers to determine what sort of courses universities will be able to offer.
A seven-year limit has been imposed on how much HECS students can use.
The government was forced back-off on its demand that universities offer Australian Workplace Agreements to all their workers or face massive financial penalties.
Instead the deal says universities may offer individual contracts, but the logic of privatisation means this will be taken up by each management wherever they can.
The so-called extra funding in the package does not even maintain the status quo. It does not even fix up the indexation of university funding.
This means that in three or four years time when the HECS increases have been swallowed up the Vice-Chancellors will be back demanding the next increase in student fees.
The handful of funded places being created will not even meet demographic growth. Instead future growth of student places will come through full fee places.
We could have free tertiary education for a mere $1.8 billion extra a year. The Liberals have the money to fully fund higher education—they have a $7 billion budget surplus and plan to increase defence spending by over $50 billion.
The Nelson plan is essentially a rehash of Dr. Kemp’s 1999 leaked cabinet plan to restructure higher education along free market lines.
At the time it was opposed by virtually everyone—even the Vice Chancellors—and withdrawn.
However another four years of funding cuts have turned the Vice-Chancellors into fawning puppies. When it looked like the bill was on the brink of being voted down the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee intervened and brokered a new deal between the Howard Government, One Nation and the independents.
The fight against the neo-liberal restructuring of universities now moves to a new phase.
Student delegates arriving for the NUS National Conference occupied the Department of Education offices while the vote was happening and there is a mood to fight on.
The NUS Conference will debate plans to fight the Vice-Chancellors campus by campus and to defeat the Howard Government in next year’s federal election.
We will kill it off at a campus level. We will make sure that it cannot be implemented, said NUS education officer, Liz Thompson.
NUS President, Daniel Kyriacou said You can expect a militant response to any move to increase fees next year. Nothing is out of the question as we campaign against this policy.
Socialists should be campaigning around the theme Education not Warfare to build a militant response on campuses, including occupations, to halt the Nelson and VC offensive.