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Budget blow will cost Canberra’s universities $16m

University of Canberra

University of Canberra

The Australian National University has estimated it stands to lose $13 million over the next two years because of the federal government’s claw-back of university funding in order to implement the Gonski reforms in schools.

The University of Canberra stands to lose about $3 million. Vice-chancellor Stephen Parker condemned federal Labor’s approach to education funding as ”just bad policy which pitches one side of the education sector against another”.

The $2.3 billion cuts include a 2 per cent efficiency dividend for institutions next year as well as cuts to the 10 per cent discount for upfront Higher Education Contribution Scheme payment and making the Student Start-up Scholarship a HECS loan rather than a grant.

National Tertiary Education Union ACT division secretary Stephen Darwin said the efficiencies would exacerbate pressure on the 4500-strong workforce at the universities. He said there were already issues with staff contributing unpaid hours and increased casualisation as the union was negotiating enterprise bargaining agreements at both universities.

ANU acting vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Harding wrote to all staff on Monday morning to say that ”while investing in school education is to be applauded, I don’t believe it is good policy to make large cuts to part of the sector to fund the other. The two are interlinked.”

”The quality of Australian education and research, and its contribution to the economic growth of this nation, requires investment in the entire sector from kindergarten through to PhD. We can’t be a clever country without excellent education and research,” Professor Harding said.

She estimated the cuts would cost the ANU $8 million in federal funding next year and $5 million in 2015.

”The cuts will likely have a significant impact on the ANU budget, and affect many of our students directly.” But she said the ANU would ”minimise, as far as we possibly can, the impact on the quality of the student experience and education programs and big research initiatives we have under way or are planning”.

Professor Parker said he had been saying for some time that levels of federal support for universities were at a high and would be eroded in coming years. The $2.3 billion cuts follow a midyear economic review cutting $1 billion out of research funding.

”I have said publicly, and repeated it at a management retreat last week, that the period 2012-13 will prove to be the high point in real government funding for higher education in Australia and no government will ever return to it.”

He said the UC and other universities had to keep developing alternative sources of revenue and reduce their reliance on the government and had included in UC’s strategic plan for 2013-17 a target of at least 50 per cent of revenue to come from non-government sources by 2018.

UC is expected to lose roughly $1.7 million next year and $1.2 million in 2015.

Professor Parker noted that from an equity point of view, the cuts targeted the most needy students.

Of the savings, $1.2 billion would come from Student Start-up Scholarships which had the potential to discourage lower income school leavers from making the leap to higher education.

”The longer term issue is whether this government is becoming a banker rather than a provider of funds,” he said.

Mr Darwin said the cuts came at a terrible time for the ACT’s academic and university staff workforce, with both EBAs under negotiation.

”These cuts are a serious setback to our efforts … [to] limit the use of fixed-term employment and sustain decent working conditions for university staff,” Mr Darwin said.

”While the government has expanded higher education places, it continues to reduce already inadequate contributions per student, driving ever-larger classes and lowering the quality of the educational experience.”

The union was concerned the cuts would be used by UC and ANU management to legitimise harsh cuts to working conditions, staffing and programs.

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