The Guardian • Issue #2102


Universities – Why you care

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2102

Universities – Why you care

This paper isn’t ‘the Workers’ Weekly’ for nothing. Workers produce all the wealth. Workers are the majority of the population.

There’s one group of workers are not treated like ‘regular’ workers by the media, and a lot of our politicians. That’s university workers. They battle an out-of-date stereo-type of academics as out-of-touch types who lead lives of privilege studying strange stuff ‘real’ people don’t care about, like the academic robe-wearing teachers in Harry Potter, but without the fun magical powers. People who aren’t into uni might ask “Why should I care?” Here’s why you should.

The issues university workers face answer that question. All too often, university staff are the canary in the coal-mine for mistreatment of working people.  They’re up against casualisation and wage theft on a massive scale. If you like having job security, you should care about it being taken away from uni workers, because if they can do it to them, they can do it to you. This paper has reported on the sterling efforts of the National Tertiary Education Union to fight wage theft. If you care about being paid for the work you do, you should care about what’s been done to uni workers.

John Howard, Australia’s second-longest-serving Liberal Prime Minister understood this. He gave universities financial incentives to put their workers on individual contracts. He knew that casualising one sector would make it easier to casualise others.

Universities also face corporate takeover. If you don’t like the idea of big corporations having too much power, you should care about that. Underfunding and government pressure has led to large companies having a lot of clout with universities. Corporations do not fund universities because it makes them feel nice. They do it to promote their social licence and to push agendas.

Governments have attacked universities in a number of ways. They’ve massively underfunded tertiary education, and have pushed unis into a dependence on International Students (who now mean more to our economy than sugar does).

Governments have also hit students hard – at the same time as lowering taxes for people with high incomes and/or large assets. HECS/HELP funding has reached a point where it’s now a deterrent to students.

Governments don’t like funding unis. It’s expensive, and there’s no immediate electoral payoff – Liberals assume they’ve lost already, Labor assume that uni students and workers won’t vote for anyone else, although the Greens have given them pause for thought on this.

If you’re not going to use a uni and perhaps don’t mind that the cost puts some people off starting study, consider this: if you have to have major surgery, would you like your doctor to be someone who’s really good at surgery, or someone whose family can afford for them to do medicine? HECS-HELP is moving us towards the second option.

Universities are whipping boys for the Murdoch media, who use the ‘ivory tower academic’ stereotype to avoid engaging with facts about things like Climate Change.

We’ve also corporatised universities. One thing the recent encampment protests have brought to the surface is just how much universities depend on large corporations. 

It feels like universities are part of the furniture, always there, but the attacks are taking their toll. Talented scholars get tired of living from grant to grant. Some of the keenest minds we have give up and go do something else. International students are beginning to notice the penny-pinching.

It doesn’t have to be like this. This country can afford university workers who don’t live in badly-paid insecurity. We can afford free TAFE and university education. We can afford to keep our best minds at uni, working for this country.

This paper will continue to report on university and TAFE workers because we are for the working class. Keep reading, subscribe or donate to the Press Fund if you are too.

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