The Labor government’s shake-up of tertiary education funding is set to leave the University of Sydney with around $50 million less revenue than expected, according to Acting Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton.
In a rare in-person interview with Honi Soit, Garton – temporarily serving as Vice-Chancellor while Michael Spence is on leave – said the University was still reeling in the wake of funding reductions announced late last year. He described the most recent reforms as “not in the best interest of the country”.
“This is the second major budget cut to higher education in the last 12 months because the mini-budget [of October, 2012] ripped a billion dollars out of higher education. So, you had the billion dollars there and $2.8 [billion] here. It’s actually a $3.8 billion cut,” he said.
Garton noted the mini-budget had already forced the University to look for between 10 and 20 million dollars in savings. He would not be drawn on whether the most recent announcement would lead to redundancies, saying it would be up to individual faculties to suggest savings, while the administrative side of the University would also be looking to trim the fat.
The Labor government has defended its funding changes by pointing to an overall increase in tertiary education spending since the ousting of the Howard government. A neat pair of graphs accompanied the Minister for Tertiary Education’s announcement of the plans, predicting that despite the 2% “efficiency dividend”, funding for the sector would continue to rise next year.
But what the tidy illustrations omit is the corresponding rise in the number of students attending universities in Australia. Since Labor uncapped the number of commonwealth assisted places a university could offer in 2012, student enrolment has soared. Australian universities offered 5.2% more places in 2012 than in the previous year, with Sydney University reportedly admitting 17.5% more undergraduates than in 2011. While this demand-driven system has meant higher funding overall for the sector, it has not necessarily been coupled with an increase in the amount of government funding per student According to Garton, this may mean more students are getting less.
“The bulk of that money has been funding the demand-driven system, in other words, funding quantity; a significant increase in quantity. The interesting question is how much money is coming per student?”
The Acting Vice-Chancellor added that modeling being prepared by the Group of Eight universities indicates that, when funding is measured in terms of dollars per student, it has actually declined in recent years. “Every discipline in higher education is underfunded,” he said.