Chris Fellows writes in the Australian:
I KEEP reading reports ("UNE legal bill rises to $1.3 million", HES online, May 29) that the University of New England receives a larger proportion of its income from the federal Government than any other Australian university as if this were a bad thing.
A public university should be accountable to the public and align its activities with the public interest. This is most likely to happen if it is funded by the citizens of Australia through our federal Government because he who pays the piper calls the tune. Every week I read in the HES stories about universities in trouble because their investments have tanked, or overseas student numbers have dropped, or a sweet deal with industry has led to a conflict of interest.
It would not be in the national interest if the federal Government provided 50 per cent of the navy's funding and forced it to obtain the rest by offering cruises and hiring ships out to foreign countries. Equally, it is not in Australia's interest to make public tertiary education - a critical part of our national infrastructure - dependent on narrow sectors of the community, or overseas customers, whose goals may not align with those of the nation.
Marconomically speaking, of course, I disagree with the specifics of the assertion, that universities are better for the country if they are run by the public purse, while at the same time agreeing with the gist that "Infrastructure" should be publicly funded.
The question is, which aspects of a university are "infrastructure" (Long term investments which benefits a lot of people, with no easy way to charge the people that benefit), and which aspects are products and service that people need and/or desire at an individual level, are willing to pay for, and private enterprises can make money from it by providing it the best way?
The infrastructure aspect of a University (Buildings, utilities, roads, long term equipment, general research projects etc.) ought to be funded publicly, and the Product/service aspects( gaining qualifications suitable for employment, industry specific research and development etc.) ought to be funded privately.
The private enterprises ought to be charged a rental and or tax for the infrastructure aspects which they use to sell the products or services which they charge for.
This issue screams that Universities should split off private arms, and look at divesting the aspects that are better handled by private enterprise.