Opposition News | 28 February 2013
Governments shouldn’t promise one thing and then do another. The Coalition will not over-promise and under-deliver.
That’s a commitment that a Coalition government will have little trouble trouble meeting. In his keynote address to the UA Conference, Abbott virtually told his audience that “there will be no new higher education spending under a government I lead.”
He did make three specific commitments:
- creation of “the Rhodes scholarships for our region” already announced by deputy leader Julie Bishop (which would presumably be offset against the aid budget)
- establishment of a Coalition working party to “explore” the opportunities and implications of the present international expansion in online education, to report in April (no cost)
- to exempt universities from oversight by the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission that the government established last year (which a Coalition government would abolish in its “current form” anyway).
Abbott did offer a lot of moral support to the sector, saying things like :
What characterises universities at their best is unquenchable curiosity and a refusal to accept that there is any subject on which there is nothing more to be learnt. Yes, they impart knowledge but their mission is to discover it and to deepen it. That’s why every university worthy of the name is not so much a collection of faculties and a bundle of disciplines but a community of scholars.
Abbott also set out “seven policy principles” guiding the Coalition’s approach to higher education, which are vaguely reassuring but, in the absence of any specific measures, can only be categorised as “aspirational”.
But he made it quite clear that in the coming era of public sector parsimony, the university sector will be, as The Australian neatly put it, “on its own”.
In a constrained budget environment, to avoid further cuts rather than to win higher funding is often the best outcome that particular sectors can hope for. That, I suspect, is why the medical research sector welcomed my recent announcement that there would be no cuts in this area under a Coalition government because it is one of our country’s greatest strengths.
Some of what he said was not entirely dissimilar to what the former Labor minister was saying:
In an era of busy government and constant change, it’s insufficiently recognised how often masterly inactivity can be the best contribution that government can make to a particular sector. A period of relative policy stability in which changes already made can be digested and adjusted to (such as the move to demand-driven funding) is probably what our universities most need now.