Australia's vice-chancellors have called for a massive increase in federal funding of public universities and the creation of thousands more student places.
With Prime Minister John Howard expected to call a federal election at any time, the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee has launched an election manifesto that demands more support for universities and the 1 million students they enrol.
In a statement, the AVCC says the Government must increase its investment in higher education from 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product to 2 per cent by 2020 - a rise from the A$4.5 billion (£1.7 billion) in federal grants in 2004 to A$13 billion over the next 15 years.
The AVCC sets out seven key areas where the next government must take action, ranging from the indexing of grants for teaching and research to student access and financial support, indigenous education and opportunities to study abroad.
It says: "The Government invests more each year in defence than all education combined, while its support for schools is higher than for universities even though school funding is primarily a state government responsibility."
Despite Government promises to boost spending, the AVCC says there remains considerable scope for public investment in university learning, teaching and research.
"Each year the Government and students invest several billion dollars in Australia's universities. Each year the value of that investment declines due to the Government's inadequate indexation measure. It is essential that the basis for indexation changes to provide a realistic annual increase in funding to match broad changes in costs from salaries and other items. This would maintain the value of Government funding and student contributions," the AVCC says.
Di Yerbury, AVCC president, said last week that the manifesto had been drawn up after consultation with each of the political parties. She hoped all parties would "consider and embrace" the issues raised as they determined their policies for the election.
The statement proposes that every Australian should have access to post-school education or training, with more than 60 per cent completing higher education. At least 10 per cent of students should be enrolled at postgraduate level, with the choice of study available in a diverse range of institutions.
The AVCCrejects the idea of teaching-only institutions, although it says research should be focused in "agreed key priority areas".
Neither Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson nor Labor's Education Spokeswoman Jenny Macklin would commit the next Government to addressing the AVCC's concerns.