Pay on Labor'selection agenda

December 29, 1995

AUSTRALIA. This was the year that universities in Australia grappled with enterprise bargaining. Urged on by federal government, academics and administrators on every campus spent months negotiating how a 2 per cent pay rise could be achieved without loss of staff jobs, benefits or conditions of employment.

The government's aim is for all Australian workers to achieve productivity improvements that enable employers to offer wage increases. Federal public servants obtained a 10 per cent boost to their salaries but the cost came at a loss of 20,000 jobs - reducing the workforce to 140,000. But university unions were not prepared to accept such losses although most have now signed enterprise agreements.

Academics have begun campaigning to persuade the government to devise a system of supplementing further wage rises from federal grants. They have also called for a 15 per cent salary boost.

With a general election, possibly as early as March, the unions have warned they will either help or hinder Labor's chances of a fifth term, depending on the government's response to their claims. Unions want an assurance that at least 8 per cent will be paid, including the 2 per cent achieved from enterprise bargaining, and they are preparing to fight for the rest later next year.

This year administrators have devoted much time also to preparing folios for the audit teams from the government's quality assurance committee. When the idea of a quality review was first floated in 1992, it attracted fierce opposition from vice chancellors. Now they are the scheme's biggest fans. In March the quality committee released its second report and almost half the institutions found themselves in the top of three categories. But there was outrage when the government cut its allocation of quality money from Aus$80 million (Pounds 40 million) last year first to $71 million for 1995, and then to $50 million in 1996.

Universities are still having to generate increasing proportions of their income from private sources, including fee-paying foreigners - with one forecast suggesting that overseas student numbers are likely to quadruple over the next 15 years.

More and more institutions are looking for sites in the students' home countries. Several universities will soon have offshore campuses in Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Fiji from which students can transfer to the parent institution in Australia after a year or so.

The money generated contributes only about 15 per cent to university budgets. That is why academics hope to make higher education a crucial election issue; they want commitments from the main political parties that not only guarantee current spending levels but also offer a substantial increase.

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