Australia’s historic assault on university education and undemocratic electoral laws



The Liberal-National Coalition Government is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate business-friendly restructuring of Australian universities. Already thousands of jobs have been cut over the past 18 months in an unprecedented offensive.

An NTEU rally at Macquarie University in 2020 (WSWS Media)

The resulting deep hostility among academics and students is part of the growing political discontent that prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government, with full Labor Party support, to pass new election laws in August. These demand that parties without members of parliament triple their membership lists from 500 to 1,500 or risk being struck off, which denies them the right to have their party’s name on the ballots.

The transparent aim of the legislation is to support the major contemptible parties. Above all, its aim is to prevent the growing disaffection among young people and among the working class as a whole from turning to a socialist perspective and the Socialist Equality Party, the only party that has fought for a unified struggle of the educators and students against the university onslaught.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, university leadership ruthlessly restructured academic and administrative departments. The National Union of Higher Education (NTEU) estimated that in 2020 alone up to 90,000 jobs were lost, but it opposed any industrial action to end the assault. Encouraged by the NTEU’s record, employers forced university workers to compete for declining positions.

This has had a disastrous impact on the education of students at all levels. Class sizes have skyrocketed while course choices have shrunk. Study units were canceled at the last minute and majors were cut halfway through students’ degrees, leaving them unable to graduate.

Some doctoral students have had to abandon their theses because their academic directors lost their jobs.

In August, summing up the business agenda behind the measures, business consultancy firm EY released a report that proclaimed in capital letters: “HIGHER EDUCATION IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE KNOWLEDGE SERVICES SECTOR! He demanded that teaching and research in universities be dedicated to the needs of business, propelled by competition from providers of business ‘knowledge services’.

This is a two-party program. Earlier this month Labor leader Anthony Albanese said if elected in the next federal election Labor would fund “up to” 20,000 new university places to “address skills shortages and meet future skill needs “. No mention was made of Labor’s 2019 election pledge to increase funding for universities.

This dovetails with Liberal-National government’s “ready-to-go graduates” and other pro-business programs, the last of which is to select four universities, based on their “market readiness” for grants. $ 50 million to help “commercialize” the research.

As for the NTEU, it aided the accelerated restructuring by going behind the backs of its members at the start of the pandemic to come up with an ill-named “national job protection framework” that offered employers 15% pay cuts. and up to 12,000 job cuts.

The national framework was only dropped after a wave of opposition from university staff led management to conclude that the union could not implement its proposed cuts. There has also been intense opposition to these measures from students who have demonstrated against the dismissal of academics and demanded that their education not be sacrificed to meet the needs of big business.

Nonetheless, the NTEU has started working with individual management to implement significant job cuts, using the provisions of company agreements between unions and management.

The NTEU and other unions and their pseudo-left supporters falsely claim that a Labor government could be pressured to oppose the measures imposed. However, Labor has been at the forefront of implementing market-friendly “reforms” for a decade, which continue in its current policies.

It was Hawke’s Labor government that reintroduced tuition fees in 1987. The Greens-backed Gillard Labor government of 2010-2013 made the biggest cuts to university funding, while tying funding directly to registrations. The result of this “education revolution” is the dependence of universities on international students paying the full tuition fees.

The Labor Party is once again presenting itself as the party capable of implementing a new wave of educational reforms with the help of the unions. In August, the shadow Minister of Education, Tanya Plibersek, proposed to strike an “agreement” with the Coalition, business, university management and unions to “reform” universities, largely along the lines of the EY report. .

Political lessons must be drawn from these bitter experiences. University staff and students must break away from the political establishment parties, unions and their pseudo-left accomplices and build the one party that fights for free, high-quality education for all and secure jobs for all. educators: the Socialist Equality Party.

An important step in this fight is to defeat undemocratic election laws designed to silence socialist opposition in the working class. We urge all university and student workers: Become a SEP electoral member today to help us maintain our party’s registration and advance the struggle for socialism, and seriously consider becoming a full member of the party to help build a new socialist leadership in the working class on a global scale.



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