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Australian Current Affairs

Australian university funding cuts would be risk to teacher quality


Monash University

Monash University

Monash University vice-chancellor Ed Byrne has warned that cuts to universities could come back to bite schools.

Professor Byrne said good teachers were the defining element of good schools, and teachers were educated at universities. “Universities are operating on very fine margins, and after these cuts they will be even finer. They’ll survive but there will have to be compromises.”

An Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency report last month found school funding had climbed strongly between 1999 and 2011, while university allocations had stagnated. Per-student funding had increased by 31 per cent in government primary schools and 20 per cent in secondary schools, but by just 3 per cent in universities.

University student numbers have increased hugely under Labor, but the AWPA report warned that per-student funding had deteriorated since 2006.

Tertiary Education Minister Craig Emerson said the 34 per cent increase in university places under Labor had lifted government higher education spending from about $9 billion to $14bn. Professor Byrne said that ignored the decline in per-student funding. “In effect we have less income per domestic student than when the government came to power,” he said. “The dialogue around schools is funding per student. Why wouldn’t it be the same for universities?”

Professor Byrne said that while pursuing Gonski review recommendations for increased school funding, the government had ignored the two major higher education reviews it had commissioned. Former University of South Australia vice-chancellor Denise Bradley and former SA education minister Jane Lomax-Smith had both “unequivocally” recommended increased base funding for universities.

Professor Byrne said it made no sense for the government to pursue its 40 per cent target for people with degrees while underfunding the universities that taught them. He said it was ironic the government had slashed university funding just months after announcing its Asian Century white paper aspiration to have 10 universities in the world’s top 100 by 2025.

Tyrone Carlin, a dean of Sydney University’s Business School, criticised “mixed messages” in government claims about university funding. “The brutal reality is that the base levels of funding for the disciplines we teach have not experienced real growth on a per-capita basis.”

However, he cautioned against a “caricatured analysis” of private school funding. “We sometimes frame that discussion by reference to a limited number of elite schools. The reality is that there is an incredible diversity to that sector (and) it’s inconceivable to imagine we would legitimately question whether it should attract public funding.”

Source: The Australian – Uni cuts loom as risk to teacher quality
 
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