Universities Australia says the government’s argument, that the Education Investment Fund must close to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a “false dilemma”. “As an advanced economy, Australia should have the ability to fund disability support services as well as a world-class education system,” UA states in its submission to the Senate Economics Committee inquiry into the fate of the EIF.
“The total amount of the EIF ($3.8 billion) will go nowhere near funding NDIS operations even for a single year. Yet, as a visionary and enduring investment in education and research, it delivers value and wealth to the nation in perpetuity.”
UA sets out for senators all the capital works the EIF has funded and warns closing it “will remove the last dedicated federal funding for university infrastructure.” This will leave universities, working on slim margins ,to fund their own infrastructure as they face the additional risk that the Senate will pass Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s funding cuts, expected in the Senate next month.
“The purpose of this legislation is to swap a long-term, nation-building, wealth-creating, innovation-supporting program that invests in economically productive assets, for a relatively small, one-off reduction of net Commonwealth expenditure,” UA warns.
The fate of the EIF was a live-issue at the beginning of the year, when there was talk of a legal challenge to closing it. This was never going to fly, ending the fund requires legislation which makes it easier to convince senators to knock it back. However, the EIF’s future is now on the negotiating agenda at a time of many possibilities. The government could offer to leave the fund in place if cross-bench senators back Minister Birmingham’s savings package, which reduce the university systems’ permanent funding base. Alternatively, senators could transfer the EIF funds to the NDIS, while blocking the minister’s savings bill to demonstrate their apparent priorities. Or they could just vote against closing the EIF independent of other measures.