V-cs join unions to demand cash

July 12, 1996

Australia's vice chancellors and the main academic union have joined forces for the first time to present a budget submission to the federal government.

The submission is a crucial outcome of an historic agreement between the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee and the National Tertiary Education Union and is intended to influence government decision-making in the run-up to the August budget.

It calls on the government to meet its pre-election pledges on university funding and proposes an immediate one-off grant to pay for an increase in staff salaries.

The two organisations argue that higher education spending should be maintained. They declare that the government must honour its commitment to allocate an additional Aus$90 million (Pounds 45 million) for research infrastructure and Aus$6 million a year over the next five years for staff development.

The groups have sought a meeting with education minister Amanda Vanstone. AVCC president Fay Gale said both organisations acknowledged their different interests but there was significant common ground.

She said the two groups agreed that reductions in spending on universities would seriously undermine the goals set out in the agreement. Regular meetings between representatives from the AVCC board and the union executive would be held to review progress in pursuing the common goals.

The submission says there has been a cut of more than 9 per cent in university base operating grants since 1983, although the government claimed in its election manifesto that there had been a 13 per cent fall in Commonwealth spending on higher education.

"Higher education salaries in Australia are unacceptably low and universities are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain high-quality staff," it says.

"The government should provide growth over the next few years to keep pace with population changes and to ensure that access to university education for future generations is not less than exists now."

The submission warns that should international students perceive a loss of quality in universities, the nation would lose a major marketing advantage and a large revenue raiser for the government would be diminished.

The union has also approved widespread industrial action in support of the pay rise. Campus branches in many universities have already voted to hold strikes and to withhold student results from administrators.

Grahame McCulloch, NTEU general secretary, said the planned industrial action would be heavily supported around the country. Rallies and protest marches would be held in every capital city and regional centre on August 7, and students would be asked to support staff by joining the demonstrations.

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