The Australian government is preparing a pro-business university agreement

Speaking at the ‘Universities Australia 2022 Gala Dinner’ on July 6, Education Minister Jason Clare highlighted the Labor Government’s intention to further transform universities to meet the needs of big business and “national security”.

Jason Clare (Image: Twitter)

Clare confirmed Labor’s commitment to putting in place an ‘Australian Universities Accord’, which will be drafted by ‘a small group of eminent Australians’. Its aim is to bring education unions together with business leaders, university management and government officials to “build a long-term plan for our universities”.

Significantly, addressing a rally organized by the top body of university employers, Clare did not say a word of criticism of their record. He said nothing about how managements have already exploited the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years to destroy tens of thousands of jobs, make the workforce more precarious and increase the size of companies. classes and workload, at the expense of staff and students.

On the contrary, he praised University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott, a leading proponent of business-friendly, highly paid restructuring, for saying that universities were “in the business of solutions for the government”. Clare said: “I think Mark is perfect. We can do so much good by working together.

Clare made no suggestions to undo the devastating 2020 and 2021 cuts, implemented under the previous Liberal-National coalition government.

Instead, its whole aim was to “work together” to integrate universities, both in teaching and research, more closely with business. “We want you to work with the industry,” Clare stressed.

Throughout her address, Clare spoke of universities in purely lucrative, professionally-educated and nationalistic terms. They were “an incredible national asset” who needed to do more “to turn Australian ideas and discoveries into Australian jobs”.

Clare also highlighted the need to restore the $40 billion in revenue universities generated for Australian capitalism before the pandemic by charging exorbitant fees to international students.

Since the Hawke Labor government imposed fees on international students in 1986, successive Labor and Coalition governments have increasingly starved universities of funding, forcing them to become heavily dependent on milking these students like cows. with milk.

Claire went further. He said universities could do more to train international students to meet the needs of employers as well. They should get the students “we teach and train to stay after they graduate and help us close some of the chronic skills gaps in our economy.”

Under conditions where Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government has fully aligned itself with Washington’s war agenda against China, Clare called on universities to play a bigger role on that front as well. He underlined “our common interest in strengthening the security and resilience of our nation”.

As an example of areas where academic “skills and talents” could be harnessed, Clare named “nuclear submarines.” It was a clear reference to the AUKUS pact signed with the US and UK last year to provide Australia with access to nuclear-powered submarines and other high-tech weapons at use against China.

Far from criticizing the previous Liberal-National government, which abruptly cut and redirected funding to tie it to producing “job-ready” graduates and meeting the research demands of the corporate elite, Clare praised the Coalition for doing “a few good things to encourage translation [of research] and stimulate marketing.

In fact, Clare reported closer collaboration with the Coalition. He insisted that the Accord should be a “bipartisan effort” to “deliver reforms that outlast the inevitable political cycle”.

Clare’s mission statement confirms the analysis made by the WSWS last August, when the Labor deal was first described by Tanya Plibersek, her predecessor as Labor education spokesperson. As we warned, “she echoed the demands of the corporate elite, highlighted by a recent blueprint issued by global consulting giant EY, for the pandemic disaster to be harnessed, to radically reshape higher education and to satisfy vocational training and research”. requirements of large companies.

In the Conversation Podcast “Politics with Michelle Grattan” from July 6, Clare reiterated that the government wants universities and researchers to “collaborate with business, with industry”. He offered the Bradley report on higher education commissioned in 2008 by the last Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as a “model” and “blueprint” to be updated.

This report set the framework for Labour’s “education revolution”, which accelerated the corporatization of nominally public universities by removing their previous block funding and forcing them to compete for enrolment, both nationally and internationally. international.

The main union covering university workers, the National Union for Higher Education (NTEU) has been quick to adopt the Labor agenda. On July 12, NTEU National Chairperson Alison Barnes welcomed the Government’s proposed ‘Jobs and Skills Summit’ on September 1-2; which is, like “the Accord”, a corporatist endeavor to cement the links between unions and business.

Barnes committed the NTEU to partner with university leadership to implement Labor Party plans. “As noted by Universities Australia, universities have a fundamental role in addressing labor shortages and building the workforce of tomorrow,” she said.

Barnes said: “This can only happen if we now invest in the workforce of universities and undo the damage done by a decade of corrosive Coalition politics and the chronic underfunding of public higher education. .”

It is a fraud. It was Labour’s ‘education revolution’ – pursued by the Coalition – that intensified the destructive, profit-driven assault on university staff and students.

Additionally, Labor passed this year’s federal budget, presented by the coalition government in April, which cut government funding, per university student, by 5.4% in real terms for 2022-23 and by 3. 6% for the following two years. According to the NTEU itself, this means that $3 billion was taken out of universities from 2017-2018 to 2025-26.

This ongoing offensive was facilitated by the NTEU, which opposed any unified mobilization against it. When the pandemic first hit in 2020, the NTEU offered pay cuts of up to 15% and up to 18,000 job cuts, including through forced layoffs. This sparked widespread disgust and opposition among university workers, as well as a precipitous loss of membership.

Now, in a bid to stifle and deflect opposition to the Labor government’s plans, the NTEU has called on its members to join a delegation to Canberra for the government’s first parliamentary session next week.

The NTEU’s June 24 email to members even offered to provide “travel to and from Canberra as well as meals and accommodation” for selected representatives for the two-day visit.

The supposed aim is to place university workers’ demands for “secure jobs”, the email says, “firmly on the new government’s agenda from the outset”. He implored:[W]We are committed to sharing your important stories with Education Minister Jason Clare and will present these statements to the Minister and other politicians.

This highly orchestrated and orchestrated mission has nothing to do with fighting for the interests of staff and students. It is part and parcel of the NTEU’s bid for a central place in the Labor government’s university ‘reform’.

Year after year, the NTEU has organized similar lobbies of governments and the parliamentary establishment – ​​neither of which has succeeded in obtaining the real demands of workers – as a means of channeling growing discontent into the corridors of power.

These developments underscore the reality. The NTEU and other unions operate as pro-labour, pro-employer labor police forces.

To fight the assault on higher education, staff and students must form independent grassroots committees and join the struggles of educators and students internationally against the corporate assault on jobs and conditions. To discuss this, contact the Committee on Public Instruction (CFPE).

Email: [email protected]
Facebook: facebook.com/commforpubliceducation
Twitter: @CFPE_Australia

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