In the run-up to the May 21 federal election in Australia, the main union covering university workers, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), has sought to sow the illusion that a new Green-backed Labor government will “defend the Higher Education “.
NTEU’s May Elections Special Edition Sentinel e-magazine even touted likely Labor education minister Tanya Plibersek at the top of its list of election candidates ranked as “higher education advocates”. Next on the list was Greens leader Adam Bandt, who was advocating for a coalition government with Labor and since the election has pledged to ensure the “stability” of the Labor government.
Plibersek and Bandt’s classification as ‘defenders’ was based on their signing, along with other Labour, Greens and ‘progressive independents’, to a set of five vague ‘principles’ which committed them to absolutely nothing, and certainly not to go back. the worsening corporate-led attack on staff and students that saw more than 40,000 jobs cut in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All this “defenders” labeling is a fraud. Plibersek spelled out the Labor Party’s agenda last August. She promised a well-heeled reunion to a Australian Financial Review Higher Education Conference that a Labor government offered the best way to accelerate the restructuring of higher education enterprises.
In his speech, Plibersek didn’t say a word about the devastating spate of job cuts, let alone a Labor government’s commitment to restoring one of them. Instead, she echoed the demands of big business, highlighted by a plan released by global consulting giant EY, which proclaimed the ‘death’ of higher education, demanding an end to universities such as ‘they currently exist, to be replaced by professional and research firms. services.
As the centerpiece of the Labor Party, Plibersek proposed “a deal on Australian universities”. It would be a “partnership between universities and staff, unions and business, students and parents, and ideally Labor and the Liberals – which spells out what we expect from our universities”.
This “deal” would bind university staff and students, via the NTEU and other unions, to a bipartisan front, with the liberal-national coalition and university leaderships, to meet the profit-generating demands of the capitalist class.
The objective of the partnership would be “to help the university reform to hold”. A main “principle” of this “reform” would be “job creation, productivity and our national prosperity”.
This means further subordinating university staff and students to the demands of employers and the financial elite as a whole. This is in line with the labour-management “summit” prepared by the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to employ the unions to increase “productivity” – output per worker – and suppress working class opposition.
Plibersek’s choice of the word “agreement” recalls the agreements reached between trade unions and the Hawke and Keating Labor governments from 1983 to 1996, in which the unions helped to impose a radical liberal restructuring of the economy at the expense of jobs. workers and conditions.
Plibersek spoke of increasing “domestic export revenue” from the “tens of billions of dollars” that universities generate each year. In other words, universities must step up their exploitation of international students paying high fees to compensate for chronic government underfunding.
As Plibersek boasted, previous Labor governments led the way in transforming higher education from a basic social right, free for all, into a lucrative business with ever-rising tuition fees. The work, she said, “deserves credit for introducing the HECS system”, through which the Hawke government reimposed the fee in 1987.
This system has become the platform for successive Labor and Coalition governments to increasingly force universities to become heavily dependent on tuition fees and corporate income. As revealed by the NTEU itself, in a “At a Crossroads” report published on May 2: “Public funding as a proportion of total university revenue fell from 80% in 1989 to 33% in 2019. »
The next Labor government, that of Rudd and Gillard, in which Plibersek was a minister, imposed a pro-market “education revolution”. He cut university funding by $3 billion in 2012-13 and forced universities to compete for enrollment, especially in business-oriented courses, in order to survive financially.
For the 2022 election, far from promising to restore jobs destroyed during the pandemic, the Labor Party only said it would fund “up to” 20,000 additional university places in 2022 and 2023. It abandoned its election pledge of 2019, itself puny, to step up university funding by $10 billion over 10 years.
Additionally, the new student places would focus on professional areas such as digital security and cybersecurity, manufacturing, early childhood, elder care, and disability. These are key priorities for the ruling class as it prepares for a US-led war against China and seeks to maximize the labor force available to exploit.
In line with Labour’s overall campaign rhetoric to business, he voted for the Coalition Government’s Federal Budget on March 29, which cut government funding per university student by 5.4% in real terms for 2022-23 and by 3.6% for the following two years.
The NTEU shares the pro-business outlook of the Labor Party. In his budget press release, he said the coalition government refused to acknowledge that “higher education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry, contributing $40 billion to Australia’s total exports “. It means turning higher education more into a business to serve the profit interests of the Australian capitalist class.
Along with Labour, the NTEU made no calls for the reversal of the pandemic jobs massacre, which itself was only possible because the union opposed any unified struggle by workers. academics against him. Indeed, the union has worked hand in hand with university management to push through agreements that have eliminated jobs. This has helped them post substantial profits, such as the record $1.05 billion surplus just announced by the University of Sydney.
The ongoing assault on university staff and students can only be fought on the basis of an entirely opposing political perspective that rejects the dictates of financial markets and employers. That is to say, a socialist program for the complete reorganization of society in the interest of all, and not the flight of wealth accumulated by billionaires.
This would provide the billions of dollars needed to abolish tuition fees and establish free, quality education, from kindergarten to university, and the fundamental right of all education workers to stable employment, with a salary. and decent conditions.
This is the alternative defended by the members of the Socialist Equality Party and the Committee for Public Instruction (CFPE). To discuss this, contact the CFPE: