catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

A post-VSU strategy

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At 10.22am this morning The Age confidently reported that the VSU bill would not pass this year. About 7 hours later it did just that. Family First’s Senator Fielding has done a deal, terms undisclosed, with the government. The contents of that deal probably mean this afternoon’s Senate shenanigans dealt a double blow to the cause of minimising bad policy (since we can hardly describe the status quo on student charges as good policy). Maverick National Barnaby Joyce kept to his word and crossed the floor, but it wasn’t enough.

While I could not support any legislation that increases price control – this bill abolishes a de facto partial deregulation of the student contribution amount – there is something to be said for Stephen Kirchner’s argument that worse is better, ie that this legislation will speed up overdue reforms to the whole pricing system.

When this bill comes into effect on 1 July 2006, it will exacerbate the already serious financial problems many universities face as they try to maintain services they see as essential (though there will be a small Commonwealth fund to help pay for some of it). Combine that with a downturn in the international student market and things would get very, very ugly. Yet these times of crisis are when university managers are most open to new strategies.

At least for the next two years, the chances of repealing a piece of legislation that is totemic to the Liberal tribal warriors are near zero. The only practical way to deal with this problem is to go around it, and argue for policy changes that the Liberals cannot coherently reject, such as an increase in the maximum student contribution amount to restore universy finances. After all, the Liberals already support totally deregulated fees for overseas students, for Australian postgraduate students, for the full-fee Australian undergraduates and for the more than a million private school students. They originally argued for a higher maximum student contribution amount than we now have. Normally, universities have ideological hang-ups on this issue. But when there is no alternative, the impossible suddenly becomes possible.

This has long-term logic for supporters of reforming student unions – a group in which I have always counted myself, despite my opposition to the bill. If Labor gets back into office, they will reinstate CSU straight away. We’ll go back to having a stream of money isolated from the normal internal competitive budget processes of the universities. Far better to get all university income into these processes while we can. If that occurred, it is very unlikely that the universities would want to return to a separate fee, and so few if any would re-appear even if the ALP made them legal again.

Finally, these two relics of the 1970s – controls on fees and the VSU campaign – could be consigned to the archives.


Written by Admin

December 9, 2005 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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