Sector Schism on Funding

It’s possibly fitting – but not exactly political lobbying orthodoxy – that a sector built on contests of ideas and knowledge is happy to air and share disputes, with HE leaders openly splitting on proposals for future funding this week.

The root of the issue is who will pay for the seismic sectoral changes mooted in the Accord process and whether the Albanese Government, for all its pro-University rhetoric, will take any responsibility to end the starvation diet that successive Federal Governments have imposed on research funding.

When Jason Clare released the interim Accord report, which floated the idea of a levy on international students as one approach to funding reform, the sector could have chosen to close ranks and come up with an agreed response, which would have presumably been built around the idea of Mr Clare reaching deeper into his own wallet.

Greg McCarthy from UWA was among a number to hammer together the beginnings of a platform, making an interesting case  that an international student levy is essentially a distraction from the Federal Government’s responsibility to pay more – given that Federal research funding had slumped from 0.3 to 0.17 of GDP between 1998 and 2021. A range of others joined in pouring cold water on the idea, pointing to the importance of international education as soft power and seeking a halt to treatment of international students as revenue sources rather than valued humans.

Following widespread criticism of the international student tax idea, University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky popped up this week suggesting reforms could be funded from within the sector itself through a tax on universities given the delightful name of an efficiency dividend – triggering consternation from other sector leaders.

The only thing less welcome in the sector than an English Striker last night was the spectre of Jason Clare putting away the Commonwealth of Australia ATM card and insisting that the sector could turn itself inside out in a restructure funded by an academic razor-gang.

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson called the proposal “a solution looking for a problem.” University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell went further last night, calling the efficiency dividend “a very bad idea.”

“We need to fix the funding system not shuffle money around amongst ourselves.

“The idea that transformational change in the sector can be achieved in a budget-neutral way from such a low starting point is fantasy.”

University of Western Australia Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma followed, arguing that Professor Zelinsky’s levy plan, “may generate short-term publicity for the proponents but will cause long-term damage to the system.”

The Accord has certainly energised discussions around the future of the sector. However, strategists suggest that universities will need make nice with TAFEs, find new shortcuts to the heartstrings of Australian voters and emerge with a compelling unified pitch that can help Mr Clare win over cabinet if the sector is going to have a hope of securing a bigger slice of the Commonwealth pie.



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!