Cuts top staff hit-list

February 13, 1998

ORGANISATIONS representing 700,000 university and college staff around the world have expressed alarm at the way governments are cutting higher education spending.

Delegates at an Education International conference in Melbourne last week agreed on the need for concerted action to counter moves to deregulate and privatise universities and to impose greater financial burdens on students.

Education International counts among its members 0 education groups from 120 countries. Collectively, they represent 23 million workers in universities, schools and technical institutions.

Its higher education committee meeting is a prelude to the Unesco world conference on higher education to be held in Paris in October.

Gerd Koehler, chair of the committee, who is also vice-president for higher education of Germany's main education union GEW, said delegates believed they should try to influence the work of Unesco, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Labor Organisation and the World Bank.

"The decisions and papers produced by these bodies have a powerful impact on governments around the world," he said.

Eugene Wall, of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, gave a paper highlighting the extent of World Bank influence on higher education in both developing and Third World countries.

He said the bank's cumulative lending in education stood at $3.7 billion and involved more than 500 projects in 100 countries. Yet, despite the "commanding influence it has secured for itself in shaping education policy", World Bank funding amounted to only 0.5 per cent of education spending in developing countries.

The bank now claimed that its role in education was an advisory one, Mr Wall said. This was a shift from its original position of lending mainly for infrastructure.

"The bank has consistently espoused a strong market position and favoured decentralisation of education provision," he said. "(Its) reform agenda is clearly predicated on an axiom that a critical ceiling on the level of public spending on higher education has been reached," he said.

The bank favoured greater private provision of higher education. It supported tuition fees, student loans and a graduate tax or similar cost-recovery scheme and universities raising private funds through consultancy and applied research.

A conference resolution to go to a world congress in Washington in July stated the principles: * access should be available to all who meet entry standards and not be limited by finance or social origin. Where fees apply, they should not exceed 20 per cent of course costs and subsidies must be available to needy students

* funding of universities and colleges is primarily the responsibility of the state

* staff should be directly represented on all key decision-making bodies in universities and colleges.

"The move to privatise university funding by many governments is symptomatic of a more general ideologically led attempt to 'marketise' higher education," Mr Wall said.

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