National University Staff Assembly
24 August 2PM
University staff – together, let’s oppose funding cuts and build a movement for public universities.
The National Higher Education Action Network invites all university staff, whether academic or professional, ongoing or precarious, employed or currently out of work, to join an online National Assembly of university staff at 2 pm on Monday August 24, when Federal Parliament resumes. The Assembly will consider a motion opposing the government’s latest defunding measures and call for the properly supported, equitable tertiary education system that society needs.
Why do we need a national assembly?
The cuts proposed by the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, are designed to defund university education across the spectrum of disciplines, directly undermine numerous subjects, including but not limited to the humanities and environmental science, and shift the responsibility for funding university education onto students. Forty per cent of students will pay ninety-three per cent of the cost of their course – effectively abolishing the principle that education is a public good. The proposal is a drastic step towards further privatising education. We must collectively draw a line in the sand and organise to defeat it.
There is only a small window of time to come together to oppose Tehan’s reforms. A motion of opposition at a national meeting, voted on by university staff themselves, will be a powerful statement that the Education Minister does not enjoy the confidence of university staff, and will provide support to opponents of the Bill in and outside Parliament.
The June funding cuts to universities are the latest round in successive Australian governments’ systematic bid to privatise tertiary education and undermine the integrity of university teaching and research. In a country in which university was once free, this is a massive social and political regression. COVID-19 has only intensified the long-term underfunding, precarity and inequities inflicted on university staff and students. Enough is enough. We must urgently defend university education.
University workers are fearful, angry, frustrated, exhausted and confused. But we are also committed to tertiary education as a social good, and so we recognise that we have no choice but to defend this crucial public institution ourselves, collectively. Traditional channels are slow to respond and limited in their actions. University Vice-Chancellors either show little willingness to defend their institutions against federal cuts, or are determined proponents of the further marketisation of tertiary education. They cannot be relied upon to defend universities from these ongoing attacks. In contrast, we prefer to continue the proud record of collective resistance on the part of university staff themselves, in the spirit of the successful defeat of plans to deregulate university fees in 2014, and seek to build from the current and growing actions of staff across universities to resist cuts.
We call on all university staff to join us in opposing cuts to government funding, beginning with the National Assembly and continuing through a series of escalating protest actions. At the Assembly, we will present a proposal for a staged, careful, strategic and democratically organised sequence of actions that tertiary education staff can take, in conjunction with students and the broader public, to campaign for Federal support for universities commensurate with their vital contribution to society.
We are launching this campaign to build an organising movement that can, with careful preparation over time, overcome the obstacles of existing industrial relations legislation, and take actions up to and including strike action, to press for the funding arrangements that universities, and society, need.
Please RSVP for the National University Staff Assembly by completing the following form. You will be sent a Zoom link via email. If the form below doesn’t appear please use this link.
⌄ Full Statement
Bleeding universities dry
For decades now, governments have slowly bled universities dry. The burden has been largely placed onto a casualised and precarious workforce, who suffer under difficult working conditions of unpaid hours, no support and little opportunity to gain secure employment. Job losses, casualisation and continual cuts to funding have manufactured a crisis.
The corporatisation of universities has seen educational standards suffer, class sizes skyrocket and job security disappear for most of the workforce because of rampant casualisation. Now, after being deliberately excluded from Jobkeeper, many academics and professionals are facing unemployment or losing hard-won pay and conditions.
The Morrison Government is deciding for universities what good research and teaching look like: a mere pipeline to ‘job-readiness’ and particular industrial ‘outcomes.’ If Tehan’s cuts pass, actual funding for universities will decline dramatically, as will the quality of education and research. It is untenable for universities to continue to deal with this reduction in funding by forcing more work onto staff and degrading both working conditions and student learning conditions. As seen on many occasions over the past decade, cuts further exacerbate reliance on the unpaid labour of casualised workers.
Reasserting the idea of democratic universities
Now is the moment to speak out, harnessing our collective power as national university staff to reassert the idea of democratic universities. Public education is vital to an engaged, responsive democracy. We are in a recession where demand for tertiary education will only increase, including from those students who have been further marginalised by COVID-19, such as precarious, lower SES and international students. Research and diverse new knowledge are needed now more than ever in a world confronted by environmental crisis and mass inequality, and in which democratic aspirations have been revitalised by the uprisings of protest movements such as Black Lives Matter. The Federal Government is planning to increase military spending by $270 billion but is massively defunding education. Acting now to turn the tide of austerity and corporatisation is key to setting a new trajectory for a fair, safe and equitable society.
We are organising to protect not only our jobs, but also the hopes and aspirations of students. Students should not be threatened with debts that will either burden them financially or lead them to avoid study in their preferred interests. Students have already held protest actions across the country and will continue to do so. It’s essential to support these protests. But we also need to stand with students by taking our own actions. In the face of ongoing direct ideological attacks by the Federal Government, the ALP has so far proven an ineffective ally, and unions are hamstrung by their unwillingness to challenge unjust industrial relations laws. Yet it is commonly admitted that industrial action is the only effective tool we possess in order to achieve a university system that benefits society as a whole, rather than just the private sector. This assembly is a first response to the limitations we find ourselves under, empowering staff to respond to the current threats to our workplaces.
Undertaking successful collective action in a hostile legal environment
Strike actions have won many of the conditions we enjoy today in both universities and society more broadly. That is precisely why existing industrial laws are so punitive – and it means that if we want to produce genuine change, we need to assert, and ultimately exercise, our right to strike in spite of them. Doing so on a large scale, across the country, at a coordinated time, and after building alliances with students and other groups, will be our best guarantee against the industrial laws that aim to cancel our rights.
Any national industrial action requires patient, careful preparation. This National Assembly is an urgent first step. We must discuss what can be done and the practical actions that can be taken. We propose the following actions to build the fight for public education that we need:
- Attending the National Assembly on Tuesday August 24 from 2-3:30pm;
- Attending and promoting student protests;
- Seriously discussing the potential for future unprotected, coordinated strike action in pursuit of a better public education system;
- Contributing to and promoting a fighting fund to support staff taking possible action.
Join us on August 24, 2020 to add your voice to help save university education. We need you.
- Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers (CUPUW, formerly National Higher Education Casuals Network)
- National Alliance for Public Universities
- University of Sydney Casuals’ Network
- University of Sydney NTEU branch
- UTS NTEU branch
- RMIT NTEU branch president, Sam Gibbard
- RMIT Casuals’ Network
- University of Melbourne NTEU branch
- No Cuts @ Unimelb
- University of Sydney Postgraduate Representative Association