After a tumultuous week in Australian politics, which saw a Prime Minister hounded out of office by the media and an opposition that was rarely called to account, a possible silver lining has emerged from the resulting wash-up with newly appointed Higher Education Minister Kim Carr has today raising the prospect of reversing the proposed $2.3 billion worth of cuts to universities.
While the Minister hasn’t made any firm commitments as to what he will actually do about the cuts it’s heartening to see Labor acknowledge one of the Gillard Government’s most foolish policy decisions for what it is. The cuts were proposed to fund the Gonski school reforms and while new funding for schools is always welcome it is somewhat nonsensical to provide high quality basic education to children only to have them finish school and find themselves without access to adequate professional training.
As well as providing formal qualifications universities are places where students form important networks that stay with them throughout their lives and where young adults learn a wide range of important life skills. They also make a big contribution to the vibrant communities that people value so much in the inner city – can you imagine what Chippendale, Darlington and Newtown would be like if it weren’t for the presence of Sydney Uni and UTS?
Until today the Greens were the only mainstream political party sticking up for universities – the Liberals had as usual failed to make their position clear but there was significant concern amongst the education sector that an Abbott government would scrap the extra school funding but keep the cuts to universities in place. While today’s announcement is positive it is nothing more than words thus far, meaningless if not followed up with action. I will be watching closely over the coming weeks and months to see if the strong campaign for sense by the Greens and the National Tertiary Education Union will win out and these cuts, which have the potential to be so damaging to our economy and our community, are reversed.