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Deals on higher education « Previous | |Next »
December 3, 2003

The Higher Education Support Bill 2003---the Nelson Reforms --- is now before the Senate. At the moment the legislation or the higher education reform package---Our Universities: Backing Australia’s Future--- is currently being debated within the committee stage. It is quite different from the earlier bill due to the negotiations between Brendon Nelson and the 4 Independent Senators.

Nelson has made concessions in an attempt to win Senate support before Xmas. He needed to because this bill is not that much of an improvement on the 1999 Kemp reforms, apart from additional funds for teaching and programs in education and nursing and a regional loading.

In the early debate the ALP (Senator Carr,) Australian Democrats (Senator Stott Despoja) and the Australian Greens (Senator Nettle) were concerned to defend public university education and to condemn the sweatheart deals. Though deal making was acknowledged as a legitimate activity the deal was seen as a bad deal, even though the Vice-Chancellors are signed off on the Nelson reforms.

The early amendments of the Bill that were debated deal the nature of the university-(there are provisions for the public funding for small private educational providers) and university autonomy (there are limitations on the academic freedom to teach any subject matter). These amendments passed, 35 to 33.

My immediate reaction was that the liberal university that was recognized as providing a criticism of society has gone. It has been replaced by educational providers who need not be universities. So we now have educational businesses providing vocational education on the cheap. What was once education is now a creditionalling for the marketplace. The aim of profit overrides the aim of education, whilst commercial success replaces academic integrity.

Will the 4 Independent Senators stand firm for those of our public universities (the gumtree ones) that cannot raise course fees and will continue to rely on public funding for their income? Will they support indexation of the Commonwealth funding of universities?

Or will they allow a two tiered university system to develop with the public tier being starved of funds?

Judging from this press release the answer is no: the Independents are not planning to hang tough and support the indexation of the Commonwealth funding of universities. It does not appear to be an issue of contention.

These reforms will favour the status seeking sandstones and wil allow them to go from market strength to market strength. University prestige is now up for sale. This is a world where the profit-seeking university invests and moves beyond tacitly endorses commercial firms and conduct to creating firms that sell intellectual property.

I caught a little bit of the debate just before the Senate closed at 6pm. Senator Harris was talking. It was a most unsual speech. I don't remember the content on the specific amendment. I recall its style: it was as if it had been written by someone in the Minister's office! Surely not?

It all looks as if a deal had been done. Sign sealed and delivered. The legislation will be passed tomorrow. Are there any hicupps? Stumbling blocks? Obstacles?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:42 AM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

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The latest I've heard is that the independents are ready to cave in, but that One Nation's Len Harris is holding off more than the others. I hope he can be convinced to hold off until next year, as it would likely make higher ed an election issue.

I hope they hang tough. The latest I'd heard was that Senator Murphy from Tasmania was refusing to budge from his opposition to industrial reform.

It's good if both Harris and Murphy are holding off.