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UTAS Vice-Chancellor, Peter Rathjen, has conceded there had been substantial staff cuts in Launceston and the wholesale removal of courses, services and functions to Hobart.

Before a packed lecture theatre at a recent Launceston campus ‘roadshow’ last Tuesday he said UTAS had “cross-subsidised” the north by “$750 million” since University amalgamation and this justified the cuts. 

The implication was clear. Launceston is a financial burden on the University and in effect Launceston should feel grateful for any university presence at all.

This sort of pernicious suggestion has to be scrutinized carefully. All institutions engage in ‘cross-subsidisation’ but it depends on how you calculate this and what you value.

Most University revenue is generated from teaching students and from research grants. It covers the essential academic salaries that drive the revenue base and that pays for all the administrative staff and functions.

Does that mean “unprofitable” administration - including the Vice-Chancellor - is cross-subsidised by teaching and research? Does that mean the administration is a “financial burden”, a “parasite” on the body of the University?

It is dangerous and misleading to trot out the cross-subsidisation argument because it highlights what you like and what you loath. And reveals hidden blame and criticism.

For instance, Medicine is a vital program of State significance but it is expensive and heavily subsidised. But no-one mentions the cross-subsidisation, nor should they.

In Launceston the cross-subsidisation argument is being used to swell the Hobart campus and justify downgrading the northern campus to a minor ‘branch office’ of the ‘real’ university. That is how it appears.

And that is how it is seen in Hobart.

The proposal to shift the northern campus to Inveresk, announced with much fanfare, conceals the reality of what is happening to university education in the north.  They bring a bit of bling and beads, and think the ‘natives’ will not notice.

Far from a ‘burden’ Launceston in the history of campus amalgamation tells a different story. In 1991 the Dawkins reforms forced UTAS to seek amalgamation with the TSIT as UTAS was simply too small to remain viable in the new national university environment.

Then Launceston was vital to the success of UTAS.

Now the narrative has changed.

Now it is an economic ‘burden’ and we should feel grateful for the promise of a city campus.

• Michael Powell is a tertiary lecturer ...


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