The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Government opens doors
to foreign private universities


Last week, buried under all the other legislation before Parliament, there were a number of bills on higher education. There was the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Bill for the establishment of 24 technical colleges, based on a "new", "industry-led" way of gaining trade skills. These colleges will be independent businesses, with staff employed

Then on individual contracts, there was a Bill to protect overseas students from the "voluntary student unionism" (VSU) legislation!

Despite last month’s Senate defeat of the VSU legislation, the Howard Government is still determined to reintroduce it for the 2007 academic year. Its implementation would devastate vital student services such as child care, counselling services, legal advice and sporting facilities.

As ALP MP Jenny Macklin commented, it’s "…as if the Min­ister wanted to chop down the tree provided by Australian students and then just save a few branches for overseas students."

Earlier failed legislation to make a component of university funding conditional on offering staff individual employment contracts (AWAs) is back on the agenda.

The Higher Education Legis­lation Amendment (No.4). paves the way for the entry of private overseas universities, with some financial assistance from government.

This legislation is indicative of what we can expect under the Australia/US Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organisation provisions being pushed by the US. They treat education as a commodity, and explains how the Howard Government sees this aspect of the FTA being implemented.

The government admits proudly that the Bill will enable the US Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) to establish a campus in Adelaide next year, with an anticipated 200 Australian students, and an unspecified number of overseas students by 2009.

The Bill would enable CMU’s Australian students to obtain FEE-HELP assistance. They’ll need it. CMU’s Public Policy and Management course will cost $42,600, compared with $10,800 for an equivalent course at the University of Sydney.

The Bill has provisions to cover the refund of tuition fees or similar studies at another institution without additional fees in the event that the university ceases to provide units that they were enrolled in.

The Bill also raises questions about the accreditation of courses from overseas institutions. The US accreditation process is not the same as in Australia, and the South Australian Government’s process for approving the CMU was clouded in secrecy.

Astonishingly, the Bill obliges CMU and its followers to provide services such as those currently provided by existing student unions, but which would effectively be abolished under the VSU law.

The entry of foreign education institutions, with a servile Australian government providing assistance while simultaneously cutting finance for domestic institutions, is surely educational imperialism.

It is an integral part of the Howard Government’s megalomaniac attempts to replace progressive laws and institutions with a grossly reactionary program imposed on Australian working people.

Last week former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser described the current period as "a time when we took a significant step back to a darker past."

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