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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Higher education funding and regulatory legislation
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Higher education funding and regulatory legislation
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
(Senate-Friday, 26 September 2003)
LE GREW, Professor Daryl
BARNETT, Mr Paul
Prof. Le Grew
BEXLEY, Ms Emmaline
McKAY, Mr Benjamin
HULME, Mr Daniel Christopher
HAYWARD, Miss Cathleen Margaret-Mary
EVANS, Mr Nicholas Stephen
STEVENS, Mr Michael
GROVER, Dr Adam Barrington
WATTS, Mr Jeffrey Kenneth
CHAPMAN, Mr Peter
ABBOTT, Mr David Jonathan
LINDLEY, Dr Margaret Victoria
MICHAEL, Dr Kelvin John
- Senator NETTLE
Content WindowEMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 26/09/2003 - Higher education funding and regulatory legislation
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Crossin)—Welcome. The subcommittee has before it your submission, which is numbered 450. Are there any changes or amendments that you want to make to that submission? I will take it that there are not; thank you. The subcommittee prefers all evidence to be given in public, although, if at any time you want to provide confidential evidence, you can request that we go in camera. I point out that any evidence taken in camera may subsequently be made public by order of the Senate. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement?
Dr Lindley —Most of us have something to say. Initially—I am sure that you have all read of this in various submissions—from the perspective of the NTEU, I would stress our concern, as unionists and as staff members at the university, at Tasmania’s general issues regarding tertiary education. This state has Australia’s highest level of unemployment, its lowest level of higher education attainment and its lowest level of participation in higher education. In fact, our participation rate at 11.3 per cent is only a little over half that of Victoria’s. To match the national average, we would need 2,400 additional 16- to 24-year-olds participating in higher education.
The state—and we give credit particularly to the state government for this—is taking strenuous and successful steps towards improving the situation. Between 1996 and 2002, year 12 retention rates increased from 54.2 per cent to 75 per cent. That is a fairly spectacular and important improvement. However, in the same period there was a reduction of 650 undergraduate places available for Tasmanians at the University of Tasmania.
The university has some unique advantages. As the sole university in the state it is very well placed in terms of partnership with government and community, and it is developing this admirably. There is an esprit de corps with regard to the university and the community that you do not get in many places, and this is distinct from the internal feelings at the university; there is a good link with the community. But there are unique disadvantages. Hobart, Launceston and the north west are separate, individual places and unavoidable costs are associated with relating between them, and I speak as someone who has been involved in plans to try and economise in this area. It seems to be difficult; there is a series of costs involved with whatever we try to do.
We have another problem: most companies and businesses are headquartered offshore, so the possibilities of private commercial benevolence or philanthropy are severely limited. The university is not in a strong position to impose fees above current HECS charges. Some 31.2 per cent of our students are from lower socioeconomic groups—this is Australia’s third-highest figure—which is most unusual for the state university. This is not the situation in which universities like Melbourne, Western Australia and Adelaide find themselves. Also, 42.9 per cent of our students are from the rural and isolated sector. That percentage is also very high. A fall in our already very low participation rates would be extremely serious and I do not think it is exaggerating to say it would be possibly disastrous if these low rates fell. They are intimately associated with low rates of economic performance generally. If they fall further, as a state we will be in serious trouble.
The students we have in unusually large numbers are especially vulnerable to rises in the cost of education to the student. Students from lower socioeconomic groups and from rural and isolated areas tend to be the ones who drop out when the personal cost to them and to their families goes up. If they do not participate in higher education at all, they add to the number of economically disadvantaged people in this state, which we already have in higher than national proportions. The students that we are already losing to the mainland are often lost to Tasmania forever. This is not as simple as losing the best and brightest but it is along those lines—we lose some outstanding young Tasmanians. We need to retain the students that we have at the moment with a wide range of undergraduate courses. I know that the figure of 25 per cent for those students who in fact are leaving because they cannot find suitable courses here does not sound too horrendous, but it matters when you already have low rates.
Additionally, the university is recovering from what the Schedvin review described as ‘dysfunctional levels of morale’. So there are internal problems—my colleague Mr Chapman will be speaking specifically about this—that are being addressed, particularly with the new administration and the new vice-chancellor. We are working towards building levels of trust that were shattered—’shattered’ is not too dramatic a word—some years ago.
From the point of view of the NTU, along with most Tasmanians we wish to see increased participation rates, which means healthy and secure university funding. In particular it means being very sensitive to the fact that we do not have the resources to withstand large impositions of additional costs on students. We need to be very careful that the university is not required to search for funding at some later stage that it is not very well placed to obtain and that we do something about redressing the serious economic disadvantage in higher education.
Mr Chapman —I have a notorious document before me—Mr Dawkins’s green paper on education from some time ago. In this document Mr Dawkins advised us that it was not appropriate for government to dictate internal management structures, although there should be a review of them. We have travelled a long way since then. My concern and that of many of my colleagues is about the breakdown in the autonomy of universities—the so-called fifth estate—and the breakdown in the idea of an academic institution which is meant to be independent of government and to pursue independent inquiry.
The fate which may have taken Australian universities is of intrusive and damaging policies pursued. It is a fate which took over Soviet Bolshevik universities when they were straitjacketed to think along certain economic and dictated lines to produce certain results, technically, for the loss of freedom of inquiry and speculation. My learned colleague was talking about the breakdown in morale in this university. I am sure it has happened in other universities. The reduction of the size of council is drastic here. This council had 30 members when we had one campus. The reduction in representation on that council was reduced in easy stages from 25 to 17. We have three campuses. There has been a reduction in the flow of information about what is going on in the university. The flow of appropriate information of what a university can be and how it should be defined has all been restricted.
At the same time the economic directives from government encourage people to be more pragmatic and you get a decline of academic core courses. We do not have a professor or a chair in classics and we are struggling to have a chair in physics. The heart of the academy, the heart of democracy—and I am sure you would know what the word ‘democracy’ means—is being struck at by pragmatic intrusive direction from the centre, be it Labor, Liberal or any other government; I overheard some of the discussion earlier. It is of real concern when you have your centres of liberty and intellectual inquiry and spirit, which have advanced Western civilisation, being assailed in the way that they are. It works all the way down through the university. Academics on the senate who form a professorial board no longer have serious power with or discussion on the allocation of budgets. Even down in the faculties we have now lost our academic and elective deans all in the direction of line management. If you adopt a management or business set of directions, structures and style, that is what you will get, but you will not have a university. It has a devastating effect on the morale of academics and intellectuals who come here in good faith to advance inquiry and social spirit. I will leave it there for the moment.
Mr Watts —In the context of the Australian Maritime College, I will make four quick points. We attempted to corporatise about 10 years ago, so we have a fair bit of experience in economic rationalism in university sector. I would just like to reinforce what the last two speakers have said. Firstly, the corporate culture and lack of collegiality that have developed have led to a lack of trust and a lowering of morale. There is only one way to motivate academics, taking into account the sorts of egos that are around, and that is to include them. You ignore that at an institution’s peril. Secondly, as Senator Mackay said earlier, the Australian Maritime College is unique in Australia in that it is a vertically integrated monotechnic and a lot of productivity is found to arise out of that structure. People can specialise in a discipline and then teach across a whole range or level of teaching and learning.
Thirdly, we have introduced AWAs. A good thing about our being a small institution is that we are fairly flexible and we have been dabbling with a number of things for a number of years. We have been dabbling with AWAs for a number of years and, in my view, the effect on productivity and quality in our institution has been negative. People tend to work like maniacs. There is only one way to get good teaching and learning, and that is with proper preparation. That is the first thing that falls off the table if people are worked in that way. The effect on the person’s home life is also devastating. A colleague of mine who is on an AWA travels interstate now probably 50 per cent of the time, and that is very unusual. There is an unfair expectation, I think, on working conditions.
My last point is that we should be wary about increasing the amount of money that students are required to pay for university qualifications. It looks fine on the face of it, in that the user pays and they have higher wages throughout their lives, but I think the community also benefits from that. On the ground, at the coalface, what really happens is that a lot of students then expect to be spoon-fed the information. That is one of the unexpected outcomes of an increase in the amount of money that students have to pay for their education. If they pay for something, they expect it to be delivered to their doorstep. Long term, I think that is a very damaging aspect for this sector.
Senator CROSSIN —Mr Watts, how many staff are at the Maritime College?
Mr Watts —There are 60 academic staff, matched by about 60 general staff.
Senator CROSSIN —How many of those would have taken up the option of an AWA—or did they have no option? Are they senior executive people on AWAs?
Mr Watts —Of managerial types there would be about 10 on AWAs, and that would be conditional upon them being put in that role to take up an AWA. Of academic staff there are only about half-a-dozen.
Senator CROSSIN —Where are you in your cycle of enterprise bargaining negotiations?
Mr Watts —We are just about to reach our heads of agreement in the third round. That is to try and circumvent five fairly major outstanding issues. So we are going to try and agree on the things we agree on and then develop the things we do not agree on out of session.
Senator CROSSIN —Has there been any discussion in the last four days about the impact of the minister’s press release last Monday—his requirements by press release now—on what is going to be in your enterprise agreement?
Mr Watts —It will certainly require going back over some ground, I should think. Then again, because we are small, we went for the money early up, and we anticipated the requirement for us to make AWAs widely available. So I suppose that is why you see the Maritime College offering those to people in academic roles where there might not have been—
Senator CROSSIN —The requirements issued on Monday go further than just offering Australian workplace agreements.
Mr Watts —Do mean individual contracts?
Senator CROSSIN —It goes much further than AWAs. It goes to the involvement of the union in grievance and dispute procedures. It talks about not putting a limit on the casualisation of staff. It talks about not having conditions that are over and above the normal arrangements, particularly with redundancy or maternity leave.
Mr Watts —We have had experience in that. One of the first things that the organisation did when they attempted to corporatise—clumsily, I might add—was to casualise the staff. We are still paying for that. It takes probably three years for someone to become a good teacher, and here we were having a turnover of people every two years. Apart from that—which goes to my first point—if you tie the hands of the staff in determining the future of the college and managing the college, it will not work. You just cannot mandate academics. You have to be really careful mandating a lot of those sorts of things.
Senator CROSSIN —Dr Michael, where is the University of Tasmania enterprise bargaining round at?
Dr Michael —We are having separate bargaining for academic and general staff. The bargaining for the academic staff is slightly more advanced. In fact, we had an enterprise bargaining meeting on Tuesday, this week, in which we were able to note but not discuss at any great length the implications of Monday’s press release. In terms of its progress, the bargaining is still in the relatively early stages. We have no broad agreement on a large range of issues at the moment. In terms of the general staff—and Mr Abbott can jump in here—bargaining has recently commenced. In a sense, some of the issues that will be bargained with academic staff may flow on to the general staff, and vice versa.
Mr Abbott —We have had essentially one meeting with management in which they responded to some of the issues that we had put in our logs of claim. The other unions only tabled their log at that meeting, and so it is very early stages.
CHAIR —The last VC, as I recall, attempted to organise a non-union EBA. Is that right?
Mr Abbott —Yes. It was defeated two to one by the staff.
CHAIR —Was there industrial disruption?
Mr Abbott —A huge disappointment.
Dr Lindley —And a legacy of considerable bitterness and unpleasantness. In the Schedvin review there were descriptions of a high level of distrust and that the distrust was unusually widely spread. They were aware of the fact that, in universities, the nature of academics is that they will become stroppy; but they were satisfied that this was considerably beyond the normal level of grumbling, that there was a serious level of dissatisfaction. I think there is a remarkable level of goodwill on the part of the staff members, a willingness to have a good relationship and to start over again, but it is delicate and there are a lot of bruised feelings and memories.
CHAIR —That is the point, isn’t it. These proposed changes may well lead to a very provocative, confrontationist model.
Dr Lindley —That is the fear.
Mr Abbott —That is our main fear, in fact. There is a significant contrast in the style of the two vice-chancellors. The last one, in our view, was encouraged by the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act, particularly the possibility of non-union agreements, to go for a fairly draconian attempt to sideline the unions. This was not popular with staff, which we thought was a very significant result. All staff voted in the process. The present vice-chancellor, whom we really quite like, has committed to a much friendlier approach and attitude to staff relations, and we want to foster that. We are fearful that we will be plunged back into the kind of adversarial, confrontational period that we had with the previous vice-chancellor by these measures; the present vice-chancellor may have no choice if some of the provisions go through but to do that.
Mr Chapman —One of the most distasteful aspects of this is the way the government attempts to bribe, bully or induce a university administration to go along a certain road. We all made critical remarks about the previous vice-chancellor, not least I, but vice-chancellors are put in the position of being offered extra money if they reduce the size of council, undertake workplace reform and so forth. This degrades the institution and the standing of the university. University academics are meant to be intellectuals and relatively wise people. When they are seen to be bullied or bribed by government to adopt courses which everyone knows they do not consider appropriate, it damages both the university and the government, and it degrades relations between the university and the government. It is a sort of bribery—’You can continue if you like, but you’ll be $400 million worse off’—and if a professor or vice-chancellor says, ‘I’ve got my staff to think of, so I’d better accept the $400 million,’ what does that look like to the rest of the community? Here is a man of standing and of high salary pursuing a course which it is clear he knows is not really the best course because he is bribed and bullied by a government with narrow ideological or economic aims, whether that government be from the Right or Left. This is the most degrading and distressing thing about what is happening in Australia, in my view.
Senator CROSSIN —Let me follow up on that. This is a federal government that has been known to not only get involved in industrial disputes but provoke industrial disputes—for example, in the maritime industry. Your vice-chancellor today made a very good analogy, I think, about that dispute. In the maritime industry, the outcomes and the outputs can be the amount of cargo you off-load from a ship but in a university they are intellectual capital, basically. The measure of the value of the university is in the staff it employs. How appropriate then do you believe this approach by the federal government is? Is your vice-chancellor inclined to accept this bribery—as you put it, Mr Chapman—or do you feel that he has no choice?
Mr Chapman —The answer to your question is that it is totally inappropriate. If you approached the courts and said to justices, ‘You’ve got to process so many cases, get so many convictions a day and so forth,’ there would be outrage. The independence of a university is not being respected as it should be. Our present vice-chancellor seems to be a wise man, and at the present juncture I feel he may well assert the proper academic independence which an academic leader should. We certainly hope so. Of course, he has only been here a short time. If he does not, then we will see a man of some wisdom and humour being subjected to intolerable pressures by government to accept options which are unattractive and wrong because he feels he has to have the money to protect his staff. This is a gross situation; you want to have a truly independent intellectual community.
Mr Watts —I would also like to comment. A lot of the effects of these bribes, as you have called them, are long term and hidden. You cannot see them for many years. It takes years for them to surface, and by then the incumbent minister will be out of the picture—so there will be no cost to him.
Senator BARNETT —Mr Watts, thanks for your presentation. I will ask a question of you first. I was wondering about your reflection on Dr Lindley’s representations of the morale and the submission that has been put that it is demonstrably low. I think Dr Lindley used the phrase ‘shattered morale’. Can you give us a response from the AMC’s perspective. You mentioned the last four years since the new regime came in. Are you at a similar level? Are you on the improve? Are you on the down? Where are things at in regard to the AMC? I am particularly interested as a resident of Launceston and a big supporter of the AMC and the work that it does.
Mr Watts —We have had a review of the management, an AUQA audit and a third review. In terms of the university submission, arising from the review into management, there was a great deal of evidence supplied to consultants that we engaged. They did a climate survey of all the staff which was really in depth, and there was very clear evidence of a lack of trust in the upper management of the college. Morale was fairly low. There were comments like, ‘The college operates on the goodwill of the staff,’ and those sorts of things. We have very clear evidence along the same lines.
Senator BARNETT —But we heard a view that perhaps morale is now improving: there is a level of trust; the new VC is having a good influence. What is the situation at the AMC? I am trying to get a feel for whether things are improving, the same or getting worse?
Mr Watts —The college council has been very proactive lately. They have established a number of forums, task forces, to re-engage the staff in the running of the place. It is early days, but that is a good start. I suppose swinging the pendulum back to that collegiate management style has been a good start.
Dr Lindley —We find not so much that trust has been re-established—I do not think it is re-established that quickly—but a willingness to give it a go again is probably the best way of putting it, saying, ‘He’s new; Let’s take a deep breath and try to move forward from this,’ because it was becoming for many people an extremely unpleasant situation.
Senator BARNETT —I say I am a graduate of the University of Tasmania and very proud of that university and its reputation, and indeed I am a big supporter of the AMC. But the AMC management have also had a good reputation and credibility. They have some great runs on the board and a very good future too, I think. Are you hopeful about the future for the AMC in terms of its credibility and reputation?
Mr Watts —Yes, it is my job! I think it is a great institution. I love working there. It is a great institution. It is unique in many ways. As I said earlier, the staff—management and academics included—all want the same thing: they all want the place to operate. It just gets a bit uncomfortable working there. I suppose that is a bit of a drain after a while.
Senator BARNETT —You put some views earlier. You were not supportive of the AWAs and the regime in terms of the use of the AWAs, but it seems it has not adversely impacted the outputs in terms of the outcomes and the productivity and the credibility of the institution.
Mr Watts —We have only had AWAs for academics for eight months or so. I think that bird is yet to roost.
Senator BARNETT —So you will reserve judgment on that.
Mr Watts —Yes.
Senator NETTLE —I do not know to whom this question is, but I wanted to ask about governance issues. I noticed in your submission you talk about the reduction in the size of the council at the University of Tasmania. Being in the unique situation, I suppose, of having the experience of having your governance body reduced, what have been the implications for that, particularly in terms of the staff and student representatives who are no longer on the council? Can you give us some insights into that?
Mr Chapman —Into the effects? The reactions were of incredulity. We were encouraged to amalgamate—and again there was a good deal of division about that to begin with—in the hope that we would be a bigger, stronger national institution. Incredulity was the reaction when it was discovered that the council, which was 30, was to be for two campuses, to have greater responsibilities and to be reduced—which it was, first to 24 and now to 17. The academic or intellectual input, if you want to put it that way, was necessarily reduced too. On the top of it, logic would say, ‘The proportions are about the same.’ But you now have two campuses to represent, a larger range of disciplines to represent, a larger number of people with vested interests—both north and south—who feel threatened and who want to protect things, and fewer people to speak about them, fewer people to put the message through.
At the same time the act was changed, the professorial boards that control the academic budget were stripped of that power. It was allocated to appointed committees, so the academic input from the middle was drastically reduced and representation at the top was reduced. So it had a profoundly disturbing effect on morale. Indeed, when it came to the last episode to reduce the university council from 24 to 17, we were advised at very short notice. This provoked a shock wave through the university, mass meetings of the NTEU and a vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor’s administration and the administration of the University of Tasmania, because it was not seen to be concerned with the aspirations, input, advice and wisdom of academic staff.
This is not just to bag the previous vice-chancellor, which is a particular sport at the moment. This was brought about by the government pressuring the universities and pressuring a particular vice-chancellor—who is a fairly distinguished professor of psychology—into pursuing this track. This was pursued in this university and it was pursued in other universities. The same sort of collapse in morale and degradation of relations between government and academics will continue.
On the other hand, if you turn it around, this university might get better and other universities might get better. If you reverse this deplorable trend in governments, you might have brighter and better universities in this part of the world. Managing the economies of universities is not an appropriate thing for government. They have to have a degree of autonomy.
Dr Lindley —When you suggest to academics that they are not capable of participating intelligently in any body, they tend to get very annoyed. If academics are marked by particular things, it is a high degree of independence and also pride—perhaps excessive pride—in the quality of their brains. So if somebody suggests that they do not want academics to give their input to and opinions on the management of their own institution—and, historically, for centuries literally the universities have been our institutions—and if you suggest that they are not fit to have their views taken seriously, academics get very indignant indeed. At the last set of proposals that Peter referred to, there was uproar amongst academics. Not only did they give a vote of no confidence; they inundated the administration with angry letters about what they deemed to be insulting.
Mr Chapman —There is totalitarianism. There was a myth put about that universities were not managing themselves well before 1997 and 1998. If you look at the achievement of ARC grants for publications in the continuing department, it has not changed very much. There was a movement by government to try to capitalise intellectual resources—almost in a Soviet bloc way—without looking at what we had and straitjacketing universities in certain directions. They have already lost much of value, and they look like losing more. Universities here and in America, Britain, Germany, France and so forth provide a vanguard of advance on the Western world. In chasing the goose that lays the golden egg, the government is in great danger of constricting that layer of golden eggs and destroying it.
Senator NETTLE —The premise within the governance protocols in this legislation is that the reduction of boards to a certain number—and the number has been chosen and is in the legislation—will improve their management capacity in terms of running universities. What response do you have to that premise behind the legislation, based on your experience with the University of Tasmania council size?
Mr Chapman —You will make decisions quicker, but you will not make better or wiser decisions. As a case in point, an albatross that hangs around the neck of this university is the fate of the department of Italian—abolished long ago. We had a talented leader in that department who was recognised in the university report. He got a promise of a $700,000 grant for Literae from the Italian government, but the guidelines of the university and its categories had been set and the reduced council made an extraordinary decision, and the faculties of university supported it. In my view, and of course I am partisan, I do not think it was well advised. The vote went through council 10-7, with three abstentions. I would argue that in a wider council that would not have happened, but the advice was not there. The result was that a lectureship, an extraordinary thing, which was offered to this university went outside Australia to New Zealand. That is, in my view, a case where the governance of the University of Tasmania failed. That was a number of years ago now and it has got worse since.
Mr Abbott —Can I add, as an ex-member of the university council for a year as a general staff member, that the number of general staff positions has been reduced from two to one. We have one person representing approximately 1,200 staff now. The number of academic staff positions was reduced from five to three, which is, fortunately, slightly better. There are a number of subtleties, however, which are not immediately apparent. The reduction in the size was associated with a quite large amount of delegation of authority from the council to committees and individuals, which in our view further reduced the input of staff, because the staff were rarely included on the membership of those committees. At the same time we believe there was a certain closing down of the lines of communication within the university. There used to be a fairly reasonable, free-flowing interaction of views. The main organ for dissemination of news in the university, the university newsletter UniTas, has to my knowledge published no letters from staff in the last couple of years—as it used to—saying, ‘We’d like to comment on this or that.’ One of our members, who is in fact also a member of university council, submitted a letter about nine months ago and it was not published, yet it was on a legitimate aspect of university policy.
Those sorts of subtleties underlying the reduction in size are not immediately apparent in the simple reduction in size. We are hopeful that under the new vice-chancellor they may be freed up again, but we have no evidence of that at the moment. We feel that this insistence on size is going to produce a similar effect at other universities. We are in the comfortable position that we are under the number by one, so we do not have to worry in that respect, but on balance we do not think it has been a good thing.
Dr Lindley —It has certainly not helped the issue of trust, and it has added to the alienation.
Senator NETTLE —I have one final question which, again, relates to the government’s protocols. There is a suggestion in the legislation that people on the council, be they general or academic staff, should not act through sectoral interest. In making decisions of the university council, they should act on the basis of the good of the whole of the university, rather than act as representatives of general staff or academics. Can I get a comment from you on that particular premise in the legislation?
Mr Abbott —Obviously any member of university council must consider the interests of the university. It is the ultimate governance body.
CHAIR —That has always been the law, too.
Mr Abbott —That is right, and I understand all that. I found it personally insulting when I was told, when I assumed office on the university council, that I must be very careful about the fact that I was a unionist as well, almost as if I could not wear two hats. I was actually cheeky enough to put it to the vice-chancellor at the time, who was the Vice-President of the AHEIA, that perhaps that applied to him too. He insisted that it did not; it only applied to unionists. It is perfectly possible to keep the interests of the university at heart. It is a separate question, which is probably too large for the present discussion, as to what ‘the university’ means in those terms. Certainly, I always attempted to look at the interests of the university as a whole. I never took a particular line, and I never mentioned the NTEU. I never talked about policy in those terms. I think it is condescending to suggest that staff cannot contribute. Staff have a great deal to contribute. They know the university and the way it operates very intimately—they know the subtleties of the way the university operates—and they have a legitimate role on the governing body. But it has been shrunk over the years.
Dr Lindley —It should be pointed out that the staff are the only ones who really know what the students say and think.
Mr Abbott —That is right.
Dr Lindley —They tell us, the general and academic staff.
Mr Chapman —You could only ask this question in the present, depressing environment. With a properly sized council it would not become an issue, because you would have a reasonable spectrum of representatives from science, languages and humanities who would both think of the university and bring informed advice to those lay members of council on what was happening in different parts of the university. When you reduce the council to its present, unfortunate size, there is a real question about what they are representing. That you ask such a question is a consequence of the damage that has already been done.
Senator NETTLE —Can I put on the record that I would not want you to think the premise behind my question was that I supported what was proposed in the legislation.
Mr Chapman —I understand that, but I will say it is a fact.
Senator MACKAY —Mr Watts, I am interested in how, from a staff association perspective, the AMC may cope with one-third of its funding being lopped.
Mr Watts —It would be devastating. We are a small institution. We have not got the ability to move funds and resources around. We have visa difficulties with students from South Asia—they cannot get into the country unless they post a $20,000 bond—and that is a large market for maritime studies. We have got huge infrastructure. I do not know if anyone here owns a boat, but they cost a lot of money. It could be devastating for the institution. Even more sadly, given that northern Tasmania has one of the highest rates, or probably the highest rate, of youth unemployment in Australia, the resources going out of that economy are terrible. Furthermore, a lot of our students are mature age and they will be disproportionately disadvantaged by HECS.
Senator MACKAY —Is the AMC going to be able to continue with one-third of its funding gone?
Mr Watts —No doubt, but in what form? What are you going to do—simulate boating or something like that?
Senator MACKAY —Precisely. So how will it continue with a one-third funding cut?
Mr Watts —Lamington stalls perhaps.
Senator MACKAY —There has been an idea floated about amalgamation with the University of Tasmania. What is the staff association’s view on that?
Mr Watts —Variable. I can give you my view. In my view it would drive away the industry stakeholders that we were set up to serve. We would be competing against the large sandstone universities for, say, marine science, management logistics training and those sorts of things. I do not think we would ever be granted university status. We would become a branch or a centre of the University of Tasmania, I would think. I think it was folly to even consider that as an option.
Senator MACKAY —The submission that was received from the principal, Dr Otway, seemed to be very supportive of the legislation. What is your view about the submission that he put in?
Mr Watts —I can only assume that he is negotiating the level of funding.
Senator MACKAY —Maybe he was when he put the submission in.
Mr Watts —That is right. I have read any number of submissions, and they say the legislation is light on detail at the moment, so I can only put it down to that.
Senator MACKAY —Do you agree with his submission?
Mr Watts —As far as a regional centre for higher education goes, as far as an institution that specialises in, say, engineering sciences and that sort of thing, we probably would not do too badly out of the funding model.
Senator MACKAY —You are going to lose one-third of your funding.
Mr Watts —Except for that!
Senator MACKAY —Except for the critical point of losing one-third of your funding, yes.
Senator BARNETT —It depends if you actually agree with that allegation regarding the one-third of funding. I do not know if you are aware of other views—about no cut in funding—which have been expressed by Brendan Nelson.
CHAIR —Mr Watts, I can give you a desk document here. I asked a question at Senate estimates—
Senator BARNETT —These are allegations and I am just drawing that to the chairman’s attention.
CHAIR —No, this is not an allegation.
Senator CROSSIN —It is a fact.
CHAIR —The department of education has given us these figures of $10.2 million. The minister also said that there would be no-one worse off, but then they had to find an additional sum of money to take it up to $38 million, because the original costings were only $12 million. So they made some fundamental errors there. Furthermore, he has just announced further enhancements. There is no money for those enhancements. They are all budget neutral, so that has got to come from somewhere. Furthermore, we have advice now that three additional universities are going to draw upon the $122 million regional funding pool, which means—and we have had the evidence today—that the University of Tasmania will have to have a reduction of $400,000. This is the nature of these inquiries. Our job is to find out what is going on. We get information from a range of sources. I assert to you that the figure I have quoted is a Commonwealth department figure. It is not something I have made up.
Mr Watts —If that is the case, I would plead with the committee not to let that happen, because we would just be unviable.
Mr Abbott —It would be a disaster.
CHAIR —Thank you very much for your attendance today. I apologise that I had to duck out, but there were circumstances beyond my control.