Words Julia Gillard may regret

After more than a decade of the Howard Government [universities] felt neglected, and they had been neglected because there hadn’t been the proper investments into our universities. But they also felt under siege. They were rolled up in red tape, they could hardly scratch themselves without having to send a piece of paper to Canberra and wait for it to come back out. They weren’t able to see what the Government’s vision for universities was for the next five or 10 or 15 years, other than more neglect and more micromanagement. (italics added)

– Julia Gillard speaking yesterday to Alan Jones.

Let’s be clear on Labor’s record so far. Though as part of its stimulus measures it has given universities some capital hand-outs, its 2008-09 budget imposed real cuts on recurrent university income for teaching Commonwealth-supported students, and its phasing out of domestic full-fee students further reduced recurrent university teaching income. By contrast, Coalition budgets delivered real increases in 2005, 2006, and 2007 for all disciplines, and in 2008 for some disciplines.

The Coalition’s higher education policy was a shambles. But at least over the last few years there was some recognition that it was irrational to cut annually in real terms government teaching subsidies and to regulate student contributions so that these were also cut in real terms. The lead story in today’s Australian about the razor gang getting to Gillard’s higher education spending looks like part of an on-going downgrading of expectations for the higher education sector. It is possible that on the key issue of recurrent funding this year’s budget may confirm Labor’s record as worse than the Coalition’s. Unfortunately, universities cannot spend education revolution rhetoric.
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