Budget continues education devastation

Issue 

Budget continues education devastation

By Sean Healy

Despite the "sighs of relief" attributed to university vice-chancellors by the major dailies, the 1998-99 federal budget continues the privatisation of higher education.

True, there are "no new cuts this year" (as the Sydney Morning Herald exclaimed), but that's because this budget is based on the cuts announced by former minister Amanda Vanstone in 1996: a drop from $3851.4 million in 1997-98 to $3578.2 million in 1998-99.

In last week's budget, the government failed to allocate any funds to meet wage increases from the coming round of enterprise bargaining at universities. This amounts to a further cut in real terms of around 10-15%.

The government's plan for higher education is not contained in the budget papers. It is contained in the West Review, released last month, which proposes further deregulation of undergraduate fees and changes to funding mechanisms which would throw universities entirely to the whims of the market.

The budget papers also confirm the introduction of the Common Youth Allowance from July 1. This allowance combines into one payment the worst features of the five welfare payments currently available to youth and students. Its stipulations include that students under 25 and unemployed people under 21 cannot live at home if they are to receive full benefits.

There may be no new nasty surprises in this budget, but the process of undermining young people's access to education and living standards is well underway.