Australia’s university union hails Labor Party’s cost-cutting budget

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the main union covering higher education workers in Australia, has welcomed the Albanian Labor government’s recent first budget, even as it cements a $10 billion cut in university funding. over the past decade.

More broadly, the budget hinges on the biggest assault on working-class living standards since World War II, driven by soaring food, fuel and energy prices, soaring interest rates mortgages and continued real wage cuts, while pouring billions more into the military for catastrophic US-led wars.

Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers. [Photo: ABC News]

The NTEU’s support for the budget is a warning that this union apparatus, like all others, will intensify its efforts to impose this agenda. This includes trying to push through corporate deals at individual universities and colleges that impose wage deals well below inflation and facilitate further restructuring in favor of corporations.

In a mass email to members, the national leadership of the NTEU said, “The Albanian government has made a good start in rolling back a decade of federal government neglect of higher education. These are welcome first steps to address some of the problems created by the previous government.

This claim is false and misleading on several levels.

First, the budget allocates only $485.5 million over four years, from 2022 to 2023, to fund an additional 20,000 places in universities and other institutions of higher learning. This is a far cry from the Labor Party’s 2019 election promise, itself insufficient, to increase funding for universities by $10 billion over 10 years.

According to budget documents, higher education spending is expected to decline by more than 9% in real terms between 2021-22 and 2024-25. Without even accounting for inflation, spending on the Commonwealth Grants Scheme, which funds undergraduate and some masters courses, will rise from $7.6 billion in 2021-22 to $7.3 billion in 2022. -23.

Second, the additional places are tied to vocational courses designed to direct students into areas of “skills shortage” identified by government and employers, with the lion’s share going to teacher training, followed by nursing, computer science, health professions such as pharmacy and health sciences. , and engineering. Universities had to bid, that is, compete, for funding. This is the Labor version of the ‘Job Ready’ and ‘micro-certificating’ courses launched by the previous Liberal-National Coalition government.

Third, the “problems” that dominate higher education are the product of the last Labor governments, those of Rudd and Gillard from 2007 to 2013. Backed by the Greens, these governments imposed a pro-business “education revolution” .

As part of this ‘revolution’, Labour’s ‘demand-driven’ funding system has forced universities to compete for enrollment, mainly by offering vocational courses, while cutting funding by $3 billion. in 2012-2013. This has caused institutions to rely on underpaid and precarious casual staff – which now make up two-thirds of the workforce – and to become increasingly dependent on trafficking full-paying international students. rate.

This market regime was retained by the coalition government that followed. He has helped government and university leadership exploit the COVID pandemic to cut a devastating swath of jobs and courses from 2020.

The Labor budget will accelerate the transformation of higher education in a business direction to meet the demands of big business. It is setting aside $2.7 million over two years to sign up to an “Australian Universities Agreement”.

The NTEU email reiterated its readiness to collaborate in this process, partnering with government, coalition, management and business leaders. “We will be active in the development” of this review, he said.

Labor’s ‘deal’ plan was announced in August 2021 by then Labor Education Minister Tanya Plibersek during a Australian Financial Review Higher Education Conference, an elite business gathering. Plibersek proposed to “hold university reform” in the interests of “national prosperity”.

The NTEU email gave the illusion that the government might be induced to provide better funding. After disguising the budget as a ‘good start’, he said: ‘However, with $10 billion taken out of public higher education and disappointing changes in job-ready graduates, we need to keep the pressure on the government Labor to live up to our sector. .”

More than a decade ago, the NTEU advanced a similar perspective after the election of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government, which it said would usher in a new progressive era in higher education after 11 years of Liberal-National cuts. “The union looks forward to working with the new government to flesh out what the ‘education revolution’ means for universities,” the NTEU said at the time.

The result was disastrous. As the NTEU admitted in a 2021 budget proposal: “Since the introduction of the Demand Driven System (DDS) by the Rudd/Gillard government, both political camps have attempted to achieve substantial fiscal savings by targeting the ‘Higher Education.

“In 2013 (just one year after the full implementation of DDS), the ALP [Australian Labor Party] introduced an efficiency dividend on university teaching grants, recovering more than $900 million.

This “efficiency dividend” was just part of budget cuts under Rudd and Gillard, which totaled $3.8 billion by the time Labor lost office in a landslide in 2013, after his pro-corporate agenda aroused hostility throughout the working class.

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) has consistently fought against the will of NTEU bureaucrats to impose the “demand-driven system” through company-level bargaining agreements.

Today, conditions are much worse. In the first two years of the pandemic, up to 90,000 jobs were lost, including those of casual workers. Class sizes have exploded and hundreds of courses have been cut.

This was only possible because opposition from university workers and students was systematically suppressed by the NTEU and other unions, as well as student unions, mostly aligned with the Labor Party. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, the NTEU rushed into behind-the-scenes discussions with university management, proposing pay cuts of up to 15% and up to 18,000 job cuts .

After this unprecedented deal sparked a revolt among university workers, the employers pulled out. Nevertheless, the NTEU imposed similar programs to impose sacrifices on the personnel of individual universities.

The union opposed the fight of the SEP and the Committee for Public Instruction (CFPE) for a unified fight against the government. At the same time, the NTEU has helped universities force staff and students to resume face-to-face classes prematurely, helping create the conditions for COVID-19 to infect two-thirds of the population.

University workers, along with students, must revisit these bitter political experiences. It is impossible to defend public education without stepping outside the shackles of the NTEU – a parasitic apparatus, made up of privileged bureaucrats who work with Labor and the Greens to implement the demands of big business.

What is needed is the formation of rank-and-file staff and student committees, completely independent of the unions, and the use of school and TAFE teachers and other workers in Australia and overseas who make facing similar attacks.

Such a struggle requires a socialist perspective that rejects the dictates of the financial markets and fights for the complete reorganization of society in the interest of humanity, not for soaring profits and the accumulation of billionaire wealth.

This includes providing tens of billions of dollars to establish free, high-quality education, from kindergarten to university, and the right of all education workers to secure employment with decent pay and conditions. .

This is the program put forward by the Committee for Public Instruction (CFPE) and the rank-and-file network established by the SEP, as part of the global struggle to build the International Alliance of Rank-and-file Committee Workers. We call on anyone who wants to take this fight forward to join the CFPE online community.publicmeeting with the Rank and File Committee of Health Care Workers on November 20th.

Titled “Unite Educators and Health Workers: Oppose the End of COVID Protective Measures!” Life Before Profit!” The meeting will present a political perspective, including the creation of rank-and-file committees, to unite health care workers, educators and other sections of workers in the fight for safety, wages and decent conditions and elimination of COVID-19 Register now:

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