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Education Training, Union

Damning report reveals devastating decline of Australian universities

National Tertiary Education Union 3 mins read

A damning new report has revealed a deep crisis in higher education, with the vast majority of Australians concerned about the sustained decline of the sector.


The Australia Institute's Centre For Future Work has released new research detailing the corrosive impact decades of funding cuts and corporatisation have had on critical issues facing universities.


The report also includes new polling which reveals widespread concerns among Australians about funding, governance, insecure work, education quality and student debt.


Federal government funding for universities fell from 0.9 per cent of GDP in 1995 to 0.6 per cent in 2021.


Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of poll respondents were concerned about the funding decline.


The representative survey of 1002 Australians also found 83 per cent of people were concerned universities focus on profit at the expense of education.


Some 40 per cent of all roles at public universities are now casual, with that employment type growing twice as fast as permanent jobs over the past 20 years.


National Tertiary Education Union National President Dr Alison Barnes said the research was important in understanding the challenges facing universities.


"This report paints a bleak picture of a sector mired in crisis. Universities have been like a frog slowly boiling in water since the 1990s," she said.


"Now we have concrete evidence of what staff have been saying for years. Funding cuts, insecure work and governance problems are fuelling massive problems across our cherished universities.


"Aggressive corporatisation and abject policy failure have had a devastating impact on universities and their staff. 


"With the Universities Accord process ongoing, this is a stark picture of what the federal government and review panel need to address to guarantee the health of higher education.


"There is clearly palpable concern for universities across the community. 


“Whether it's funding cuts, insecure work, student debt or increasing class sizes, it's patently clear from this polling there are high levels of concern about this decades-long trajectory.”


Read the NTEU’s submission to the Universities Accord here.


Key findings:


* Federal Government funding for universities (excluding HELP) has fallen from 0.9 per cent of GDP in 1995 to 0.6 per cent of GDP in 2021 – implying a $6.5 billion reduction in funding in 2021

* On a per student basis, Commonwealth higher education funding has declined significantly in the last decade

* Since 1995, private sources of revenue have doubled as a share of university revenue: increasing from 21.7 per cent to an all-time high of 43 per cent in 2019

* Casual employment now accounts for 40 per cent of jobs at public universities

* While total employment has grown on average by 2.3 per cent per year between 1999 and 2019, casual employment has grown almost twice as fast (4.5 per cent per year) over the same period

* Average HELP debt has doubled since 2008: increasing from $12,990 to $24,771 in 2022

* Tuition fees make up 51 per cent of total funding for universities in Australia, compared to the OECD average of 22.3 per cent


Key polling insights:


* Three in four (74 per cent) of Australians are concerned about the decline in government funding with 35 per cent very concerned

* Five in six (83 per cent) Australians said they were concerned universities focus on profit at the expense of education, with 50 per cent very concerned

* 51 per cent agreed a mostly permanent faculty would provide the best university education for students

* Just 22 per cent believe there would be no difference in quality between sessional/contract and permanent staff, while only 17 per cent said mostly sessional and contract staff would be best for a student’s education. 

* 68 per cent were concerned about larger class sizes and fewer faculty per student, with 25 per cent who said they were very concerned

* 67 per cent said it costs too much to attend university, while 22 per cent said the cost was about right, and only 2 per cent said costs were too low

* 76 per cent were concerned about student debt burden, with 44 per cent very concerned

* 85 per cent agreed that any Australian with interest and pre-requisites should be able to receive a university education, regardless of their personal financial circumstances, with 47 in strong agreement

Contact details:

Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480 /

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