According to a landmark report, free undergraduate education and thousands of new college jobs could become a reality if the federal government increases spending on higher education.
Raising funding for the sector to 1% of GDP a year would bring Australia back up to the OECD average and save public universities, according to the Australia Institute think tank.
Australian universities have faced huge revenue shortages during the pandemic after losing the international student market due to border closures.
The sector has also been barred from accessing the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
Total university revenue fell by $1.9 billion in 2020, leading to the loss of 40,000 higher education jobs in 12 months. More than three-quarters were at public universities.
The report, by the institute’s Center for Future Work, found Australia’s public university sector was at a crossroads and urged the next federal government to invest in and repair the damage caused by rising corporatization, funding cuts and the pandemic.
Yet the last budget provided for a reduction in real university funding of 3.4% over the next four years.
“As devastating as the pandemic has been for Australian universities, the sector was warped and damaged by corporatisation, casualization and privatization long before COVID arrived,” said Eliza Littleton, Australia Institute economist and author. of the report.
“Australia needs an ambitious national vision for higher education that realigns the sector with its public service mission and the needs of students, staff and society at large.”
The government could facilitate a stronger economy, social mobility and stronger democracy by investing in higher education, Ms Littleton said.
The report recommends key policy initiatives to revitalize Australia’s public universities.
They include free undergraduate education for Australian students, adequate public funding for universities, fully funded research, job security measures, caps on vice-chancellor salaries and transparency in fundraising. of data.
The report states that direct public funding of higher education in Australia has declined relative to the size of the economy since the mid-1980s and represents only 0.65% of GDP.
This figure is below international and historical standards with an OECD average of 0.94% of GDP.
The report estimates that implementing the recommendations would cost an additional $6.9 billion a year, or less than 1% of Australian GDP.
Increased investment would be required each year based on economic growth.
“In a business as usual scenario, higher education will continue to be even more dominated by business priorities and cost cutting,” Ms Littleton said.
“If governments make different choices, a better and more democratic future for this vital public service is possible.”
Australian Associated Press