The under-investment in higher education contained in last night’s budget could render Labor’s education revolution a casualty of its political surplus target, Australian Greens higher education spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said today.
“Underfunding universities and TAFE colleges to deliver a budget surplus is a setback for the Government’s higher education reform agenda,” said Senator Rhiannon.
“The university sector has expressed relief that it was spared from major cutbacks, but the absence of increased funding will further entrench existing problems such as high staff to student ratios and the casualisation of academic staff.
“Labor’s vision to increase participation and broaden the base of university students is laudable, but it could stall without continued increased public investment to cater for growing student numbers.
“The forecasted funding per student over the next four years will fall short of increasing in real terms, when adjusted for inflation. It’s a far cry from the 10 per cent funding increase per university student that the Greens called for along with the higher education sector.
“Ongoing funding shortfalls have already forced some universities to cut costs, and it will become harder for those changes to be reversed in the future.
“Labor’s vision to deliver a highly trained skilled workforce and drive a stronger economic outlook has stalled, with critical skills shortages persisting in most key skills areas.
“For vocational training, the answer is to prioritise funding for public TAFE colleges and wind back contestability for vocational courses. A river of public funding has flowed to private providers since contestability was introduced in 2008, but has not delivered the advanced qualifications and skills that the country needs.
“This meagre education budget will widen existing funding gaps and could push Australia further towards a two tier higher education system, given the Coalition has foreshadowed its intention to deregulate student fees to fill the funding gap.
“There is a real risk that, under a Coalition government, students will bear the brunt of this budget shortfall through increased student fees and charges,” said Senator Rhiannon.