Australia: Universities decry closure of education infrastructure fund
A Senate vote this week became the final nail in the coffin for Australia’s education infrastructure fund, a decision between Labor and the Morrison government that universities across the country disagree with.
With the decision, funds from the AU$3.95 billion Education Investment Fund would now be redirected to a new fund to finance responses to natural disasters and emergencies.
In a statement Thursday, Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said that while the country’s learning institutions were all for the creation of a new Emergency Response Fund, they felt closing the EIF was not the way to finance it.
“The EIF was designed to be an education fund that would finance teaching and research infrastructure to serve the nation in perpetuity – not just today or tomorrow,” she said.
“While the planned short-term matched funding of AU$50 million for TAFEs will be welcome, both universities and TAFEs have lost AU$4 billion of investment for the long-haul,” she added.
Although dormant, Jackson pointed out that the EIF had been created to secure the future of Australia’s tertiary education sector for all generations to come.
The EIF was set up by Labor in 2009 to provide dedicated and ongoing capital funding for tertiary education and research infrastructure.
The Coalition has been trying to abolish the fund since 2014, and has stopped payments since 2013. A plan to repurpose it to partially fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) fell through when it failed to gain parliament’s approval.
As a result, the fund has lain dormant for six years, which the university sector has said is a loss of investment opportunities.
“With its de-funding, there is now no other dedicated source of ongoing funding for investment in capital works – new classrooms and research buildings – for universities or TAFE,” Jackson said.
She pointed out that having highly trained and knowledgeable people equipped with the best technology was crucial to Australia’s preparation and response to national disasters.
“By investing in training and education, we can equip our first responders and recovery teams with better technology, research breakthroughs and practical skills to help our fellow Australians through the worst of times.”
The university peak body, however, thanked all Senators and MPs who spoke up for education during parliamentary debates on the matter.
Greens MPs, Greens Senator for NSW and Education spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi had during debates accused Labor and the Liberals of selling out TAFEs and universities.
In agreeing to redirect EIF funding, he said they were teaming up to “stab education in the back”.
“I don’t expect any better of the regressive Liberals who have cut education funding at every turn, but Labor used to be the party of education. Now they are just selling out communities and young people to remain politically relevant,” Dr Faruqi said in a media release expressing strong objections to the decision.
“Labor are so eager to please the Liberals they voted to abolish the infrastructure fund they themselves established.
“The reality is unis, TAFEs and research have all suffered under this Liberal-National Government. Education in Australia is being dangerously underfunded.”
The Morrison government had unveiled plans to repurpose the EIF in its 2019/2020 budget reveal earlier this year, to objections from the country’s academic and research communities.