The Guardian July 11, 2001


Kemp's disgrace: university funding coercion

by Peter Mac

The Federal Minister for Education, and the Howard Government, are headed 
for the courts over allegations that they attempted to coerce universities 
to implement anti-union legislation.

The case is the first involving sections of the Federal Workplace Relations 
Act which forbid anyone from threatening action "with intent to coerce" 
another party to make an anti-union agreement.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) alleges that the Government 
offered 37 tertiary education institutions a funding increase equal to a 
two percent across-the-sector pay rise, if they instituted "reforms" that 
included promoting individual contracts, removing industrial award 
conditions and excluding unions from involvement in the workplace.

According to a leaked cabinet document cited by the union, Dr Kemp 
recommended pursuing the Government's industrial policies in the 
universities by "an up-front injection of funds contingent on the 
achievement of specific workplace relations reforms ... reflecting 
Government policy objectives".

Dr Kemp's department has remained tight-lipped about the issue.

Overcrowding

Meanwhile, a scandal has erupted over Sydney University's direction to 
limit class attendances when there is inadequate accommodation  and in 
the case of many universities it seems to happen frequently.

The Sydney University President of the National Tertiary Education Union, 
Dr Bronwyn Winter, said it was not uncommon for classes in computing 
studies and languages to have 35 students in a room designed for a maximum 
of 24.

The University authorities have directed that staff should direct excess 
numbers of students to leave, rather than put up with the occupational 
health and safety issues posed by the inadequate room size, or, worse 
still, should cancel the class altogether.

Not surprisingly, students have been enraged by these directives, which 
threaten their future prospects and represent a gross denial of the 
education to which they are entitled and are expected to pay appallingly 
heavy HECS fees.

Unfortunately, some students have on occasion vented their frustrations on 
the academic staff rather than on the administration or the Government.

Mark Dolahenty, an official with the NSW NTEU office, stated this week that 
the University's advice to staff on the overcrowding issue highlighted the 
Federal Government's cuts to university funding.

He claimed that this has resulted in a need to maximise the number of full 
fee-paying students just to maintain financial viability, while many 
universities were now unable to pay for the necessary extra accommodation.

He commented: "They squeeze them into the already full lecture theatres. 
Overcrowding is a problem in every Australian University...

"It is the responsibility of university administrations to deal with these 
matters, not individual lecturers, and to place the burden on individual 
staff members is just reprehensible", said Mr Dolahenty.

Back to index page