Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Learning to love the dollar

Don't you just love it when you feel as if your whole way of life, your beliefs, are at odds with the majority of the country? After the 'stunning' election result, then the eventual take-over of the Senate by the Right I really didn't think it could get much worse. Of course, there was the gay marriage stuff before the election (who the hell was calling for it anyway??), now there's Abbott saying nothing about the possibility of bringing abortion law back into question, Howard obviously jizzing himself at the thought of pushing through industrial relations 'reform' that defies belief and now...Brendan Nelson is getting in on the stamping-all-over-democracy act by indicating that he will push through his Higher Ed reforms as soon as possible. I'm beginning to feel even more marginalised than I was before the election.

Nelson's reforms particularly frighten me. (Well, let's face it, the who lot of it frightens me). Nelson is getting absolutely no public support from the sector itself but hey, what would they know? They only work at Universities for a living! Our Gav has come out against voluntary student unionism. Nelson would argue that as VC, Gav is out of touch with the student population.

There are several things I want to say about Nelson's package:

1. Getting rid of compulsory student unionism would be a complete disaster. A lot of students know this but unfortunately there are a sizable chunk who don't. They think saving their 200 bucks at the beginning of the year is great. Like the Howard clones this country is fast developing, they see only a short distance and only what directly relates to them. I can't believe that they don't realise how much things will cost on campus if the Unions don't get the money, surely they must realise that services would be limited to those that make a profit and that may exclude basic services like childcare and health services. Still, they get to keep their 200 bucks so they can spend more on booze at college parties and causing a ruckus on King St so what do they care?

2. One of Nelson's arguments is that it:
was the "inflexibility in work practices" and the administrative difficulty of shifting lecturers from low-demand to high-demand courses.

High-demand courses are usually fashionable courses. In time they go out of fashion. Does that mean that funding should be shifted to the fashionable courses and removed from the unfashionable but highly worthy courses? Of course not. Are some areas of learning 'better' than others? Again, of course not. I have this horrible vision of a university in the Nelson mould where courses the Government wants taught are priviliged and funded while the courses, let's say, Arts, that teach people things that aren't necessary quantifiable are left to rot. Hang on, that sounds like a place I know...

3. This obsession Nelson has with academic Unions is unfathomable. Let's face it, we all know academics are hideously overpaid, sit around doing god-knows-what in their musty offices and refuse all attempts to make them accountable. If Nelson really thinks this is the case he really doesn't know what is going on in the unis. General staff need their Union as much as the academics. I can tell you, general university staff aren't there for the money.

I think Nelson knows all his bluster about union strong-arm tactics, inadequate funding for courses due to staff inflexibility and the unfairness of compusory student unionism is just that, complete crap. Maybe I'm giving him and his boss too much intellectual credit but I feel that the unis piss them off because they are one of the last little bastions of intellectual freedom. Knowledge is sought there for the sake of it! What a ridiculous idea! That one would want to expand one's mind, to develop a greater awareness and understanding of the world, to be able to think creatively, see the big picture and understand the lives of others. And where, Nelson would ask, would those kind of 'soft' skills get you in Australia today? Nowhere if he has his way. A nation of drones with MBAs, hideously in debt through education and house prices. Now, that's better.

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