Higher education has little to look forward to if the conservative Howard government is re-elected when Australians go to the polls tomorrow.
After slashing almost Aus$2 billion (Pounds 670 million) from higher education spending during their first term, the conservatives are promising little more than Aus$150 million extra - and most of this has been targeted for research infrastructure and research partnerships with industry.
Vice-chancellors, academics and students were united in condemning the government's election policy on university funding, describing its promises as a failure of vision and no solution to institutional or student needs.
Federal education minister David Kemp released the policy ten days before the election. Dr Kemp said that if re-elected, the government would increase the number of fully publicly-funded undergraduate places in universities by another 4,000 over the next two years.
The projected rise in students had been foreshadowed in this year's budget. But it did not compensate for the 21,000 places the Howard administration had cut when it came into office. Nor did it match the 5,000 additional places promised by Labor.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee said the policy was inadequate and incomplete, rating it as worth two out of ten.
AVCC executive director Stuart Hamilton said the government's failure to provide additional public places above those already in the system, or to direct targeted additional funding into key areas such as support of excellence in university teaching and internationalisation, was disappointing and "will serve Australia ill".
"What has been entirely unpredictable and perplexing, however, is the government's failure to give any support to what it states are its own objectives, particularly in terms of providing the framework for more autonomy and flexibility," Mr Hamilton said.
The vice-chancellors' response was in sharp contrast to their enthusiastic endorsement of the Labor Party's education policy, which they called "a breath of fresh air".
Collectively, the various higher education organisations have spent an estimated $1 million during the election campaign highlighting the needs of universities, their staff and students - while pointing to the impact the Howard government's cuts have had.