Howard prepares to wrest control

November 12, 2004

Melbourne. Australian higher education faces more upheaval as John Howard's re-elected Government pushes ahead with more reforms that will strip the states of their remaining powers over universities, ban strikes by academics and prohibit compulsory student-union fees.

Brendan Nelson, the Education Minister, triggered an angry debate when he accused the states of restricting universities' ability to work with the private sector.

Under the Australian constitution, the states run schools and technical colleges, and are able to enact legislation establishing universities. But the states ceded financial responsibility for higher education to the Federal Government in 1974.

Dr Nelson said it was illogical to have the Federal Government funding and devising policies for universities while the states had responsibility for their financial accountability and governing councils.

Academics, state governments and unions have reacted fiercely to the plans.

Di Yerbury, president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, said many universities would be concerned about losing valuable support from state governments.

Peter Beattie, Queensland's premier, vowed to fight to keep control of his state's universities. "The only reason the Federal Government wants to do this is because they have some ideological obsession about being centralist," he said.

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