HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 9 AUGUST 2021
The convention on these things is to thank the member for Longman for bringing on the debate and to say how pleased I am that he has done it, but I'd be a hypocrite if I did that. The fact is that this is the most anti-university government in Australian history. It is bizarre that the member would bring on a motion praising the government's university policies. He should hang his head in shame for the way in which this government has treated universities. Universities are vital to Australia's future. Attending university boosts earnings by around 50 per cent compared to finishing high school, translating to some $600,000 of additional earnings for the median woman and $800,000 for the median man.
Universities are also critical to Australia's exports. They were our fourth-largest export earner before the pandemic hit. Universities employ some 130,000 full-time equivalent workers, and in regional areas they support some 14,000 jobs. The research done in universities is fundamental to Australia's prosperity, and at a time like this even those opposite should recognise the value of funding science. Yet the sector is set to lose nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2020 and 2021. The mere $1 billion the government provided in last year's budget hasn't been renewed in this year's, and when it came to JobKeeper the government changed the rules three times to keep out universities. No, wait; it wasn't all universities. No, they let a couple through. Who did they let through? It was the private universities. Bond University got millions of dollars and New York University's Sydney campus got JobKeeper, yet Australian public universities were excluded from JobKeeper.
The government's own budget papers show that, because of the ‘Job-ready Graduates’ package, Commonwealth funding of universities will be lower and student debt will rise. The fact is that this comes after an ongoing series of attacks by the Morrison government on universities. They killed the demand driven system, bringing back command and control by the Molonglo. You'd think that a party that calls itself ‘Liberal’ might actually support the demand driven system which allows students to decide where places will be, but, no, they went back to command and control.
They botched the China relationship, causing significant challenges for Australia's higher education sector. Then, as a result of their bungles in vaccination and quarantine they are further hurting the higher education sector—not just because international students can't come, but because domestic students are caught interstate and because valued faculty can't be brought here to Australia.
Let me go through a couple of the particular universities. Charles Sturt University is having to cut bachelor degrees in outdoor education, sustainable agriculture and information technology. Macquarie University is having to cut up to 31 programs in science and engineering. The University of Newcastle is cutting eight undergraduate degrees, including in technology, renewable energy systems and computer science. Swinburne University of Technology is cutting design and languages programs. Central Queensland University is closing campuses. The University of the Sunshine Coast is cutting programs in STEM. The University of Queensland is cutting programs in agriculture and engineering. Murdoch University is cutting programs in physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology and engineering. Across all institutions we've had nearly 2,000 courses cancelled and nearly 200 programs cancelled.
At my former university, the Australian National University, the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, which has done groundbreaking work in plate tectonics, has lost five professors. ANU's physics department, clearly the best in Australia, has lost 20 professorial positions and 40 per cent of PhD students. This is despite the fact that it is one of the most successful centres at research commercialisation. Deakin University has lost nearly 3,000 staff. La Trobe University has lost over 3,000 staff. Monash University has lost 1,000 staff. The Australian National University has literally been decimated—one in 10 staff have gone. Of course, these are only the numbers that the National Tertiary Education Union can pull out. ABS data shows 30,000 fewer Australians working in higher education than at the start of the year.
Even the philistines believed in the humanities -- in arts, culture, trade and languages—but not this government, the most anti-university government in Australia's history.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra