A better university system for students and staff
NTEU’s campaign aims to strengthen all aspects of universities, including securing a better deal for students around affordability and improved student services, increasing government funding, improving the employment security and conditions of staff, protecting university independence and academic freedom, and promoting environmental sustainability on campus.
A better deal for students
The costs of attending university, both increased fees and rising living costs, are a significant and growing burden on students and their families. While HECS means that course fees are deferred, rising fees means debt levels are also rising.
Between 1996 and 2006 the contribution by students to the cost of their university education through HECS fees increased by more than 70%. In 2006 the total HECS debt was around $13 billion.
Students who graduate with huge debts are often faced with deferring many important life decisions, such as when to buy a house or have a baby. It is important that fees and debt do not continue to rise.
Living costs are also an increasing challenge for many students. Many students have inadequate food and/or housing, which is made worse by increasingly strict eligibility criteria for student support. In addition to campaigning itself, NTEU supports the campaigns of the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) for better student income support.
Providing adequate educational and financial support for students is crucial to ensuring students, particularly those traditionally excluded from entry, are able to participate and succeed at university.
Improved student services
The impact of the 2005 Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) legislation on student support services, social interaction and the broader community life of universities has been profound.
The ‘student experience’ of attending university is not just about formal teaching and learning. It includes the extra-curricular activities organised and controlled by students themselves. Student organisations have traditionally filled these roles, providing various academic, social justice, welfare, sporting and recreational services. These activities also benefit the wider community, particularly in regional areas.
Some universities have directly supported their student bodies and/or maintained some of their services, but these arrangements cannot be maintained indefinitely without further financial support.
The Rudd Government must act now to save organised extra-curricular life on campuses.
Australia’s universities are high energy users and waste producers, but also important centres for environmental research and leaders in developing solutions to climate change.
NTEU believes that universities should play key leadership roles in finding solutions for climate change and modelling best practice in environmentally sustainable operations.
Over the last decade universities have experienced real cuts in public funding. The most obvious visible effect of this on students is that tutorial classes, which typically had 8-12 students in the 1980s, now often have 20 or 25 students.
Declining government funding has also led to course cuts and closures, and inadequate resources for libraries and other vital university infrastructure. Without increased government funding, students will continue to pay more for less.
Securing Quality Staff
Student-to-staff ratios have increased dramatically over the last decade. This has led to constantly increasing workloads for academic staff. For students, it means over crowded lecture theatres and tutorials, and less access to staff and assistance.
Staff are also increasingly being employed on fixed term contracts or on a casual basis. This undermines employment security, working conditions, career progression and promotion opportunities.
In order to attract the best staff, it is essential that pay and conditions for university staff maintain pace with comparable professions.