New evidence emerges of overcrowded universities

Issue 

BY JEREMY SMITH

The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has released a new survey of post-secondary education demonstrating the effects of funding cuts on teaching. Overall the staff to student ratio for the industry has increased by 3% between 1999 and 2000. There are now an average of 18.84 students to every teaching staff member in higher education, up from 13.50 in 1989.

Most institutions experienced an increase in students numbers without a matching increase in staff. The growth in class sizes was worst in Queensland and the Northern Territory, while Tasmania enjoyed an improved ratio. Half of the increase since 1989 has occurred under the Howard government.

The National Tertiary Education Union’s analysis of the report sheds further light on the worsening situation. A significant proportion of the growth in student numbers has come from fee-paying post-graduate and overseas students. While there has been some growth in jobs in the industry in the last two years, nearly 80% are casual. The work force of 12 universities shrank during this time.

This restructuring of the work force inevitably compromises individual teacher attention to students’ needs. For a significant number of institutions, there are simply fewer teachers.

“The continuing climb in student to staff ratios reflects the increased pressures placed on university staff to do more with less”, NTEU president Carolyn Allport said in response to the AVCC report by saying. “This is a direct result of the cuts to government funding and the inadequacy of private funding in keeping pace with the real increases in costs to universities.”

“These figures”, Allport observed, “add to the mountain of evidence which shows that the government must increase public funding immediately to save the quality of Australia’s universities. Time is almost up.”

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