Australian reforms get near-unanimous disapproval from HE staff

In survey of 15,000 university staff, just 2.6 per cent supported the government’s higher education policies

January 31, 2018
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Less than 3 per cent of university staff in Australia agree with the government’s higher education policies, according to a new survey.  

The National Tertiary Education Union’s State of the Uni study was carried out last year, shortly after the Australian government unveiled plans to cut A$2.8 billion (£1.6 billion) in funding over four years while increasing student fees by 7.5 per cent.

Although the government subsequently failed to win support for the reforms in the Senate, it announced in December that it would be imposing a freeze on university teaching budgets. This decision, which does not require legislation, is estimated to leave institutions with a shortfall of A$2.2 billion.

In the survey of 15,000 university staff, just 2.6 per cent of respondents supported the Liberal-National Coalition’s higher education policies.

In addition, staff members described higher education as a sector stretched to its limits as it tried to provide quality teaching while dealing with a large increase in student enrolment.  

Respondents were critical of the salaries paid to university senior management, with only 16.6 per cent agreeing that executive staff received appropriate remuneration for their work.

In a similar vein, just 27.6 per cent said they had confidence in the ability of senior management, while even fewer – 15.2 per cent – agreed that change in the workplace is handled well at their institution.

Almost 80 per cent felt that universities had become too corporate in their outlook.

However, the majority of staff members who took the survey (73.2 per cent) agreed that their job gave them satisfaction – citing positive work relationships as the major source of this.

“Clearly, staff are highly engaged in their work and placing an increased value on collegiate relationships, as well as involvement in the decision-making, change management and governance processes of their institutions,” said NTEU national president Jeannie Rea.

“The unfortunate reality, though, is that too often they are confronted with out-of-touch senior managements and vice chancellors obsessing over the bottom line and their brand, instead of the best interests of students, the sector and the increasingly casualised workforce.

“Making matters worse, the federal government is treating the sector with nothing but disdain, focusing on funding cuts, rather than investing in quality public higher education for the future.

“If the Turnbull government and senior managements genuinely want to improve higher education, then they should listen to the people who know it best – the staff.”

sophie.inge@timeshighereducation.com

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