'Melancholy' v-c faces pay strife

April 2, 1999

As Australian academics prepare for industrial action over a 19 per cent pay claim, the federal government ruled out extra cash for universities to cover the cost.

Education minister David Kemp told vice-chancellors last week that he would not bow to pressure. Universities had to follow a tight wages and fiscal policy.

John Niland, president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, said his delegation had left the talks "with the melancholy view" that no more funding would be provided and that universities would be lucky to afford even a 1-2 per cent salary increase.

Professor Niland said he had explained the impasse in universities: they were entering a third round of enterprise bargaining without an adjustment to the government funding they receive and without any idea whether there would be an adjustment in future.

The level of distress was without precedent in his 35 years' experience, he said, adding that "given the nature of the current funding arrangements, this could not continue.

Following significant job losses resulting from previous pay rounds, staff at all universities are feeling increasingly overworked and under pressure. Universities were struggling to maintain the quality of teaching and research, he said.

The National Tertiary Education Union has already authorised strike action at several universities. Union members at the University of New South Wales went on strike in protest at the lack of progress on its 50th anniversary.

"Staff consider it a bit rich to be asked to join in a celebration of the university's achievements," said NTEU branch president Rae Francis, adding they were angry that management had not dealt seriously with the issues of wages, employment security and increasing workloads.

Professor Niland, who is also UNSW vice-chancellor, tacitly supported a two-day strike by his staff earlier this month on the understanding they directed their anger at the federal government.

The NTEU said that since the conservative government of prime minister John Howard was elected in 1996, it had slashed more than Aus$700 million (Pounds 4 million) from university operating grants, raised tuition costs, accelerated the "marketisation" of higher education by permitting universities to charge some students full fees, and had effectively put all postgraduate coursework on a full-fee basis.

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