By Monica Purcell
With the Labor Government announcing plans to fund the Gonski school reforms with $2 billion of university funding last month, the importance of funding Australian universities is once again at the forefront of political debate. Critics such as Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon condemn the plans, predicting a sharp decrease in the quality of higher education in Australia, with the inevitability of higher class sizes, staff redundancies and impoverished facilities resulting from budget cuts. Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins raises concerns about accessibility for disadvantaged students, with potential reductions of funding in scholarship and pathway programs. And Professor Glen Finger of Griffith University worries for the reputation of Australian universities worldwide. With such debate in mind it is worth taking time to reflect on how Australian universities have been valued since the opening of the first, Sydney University, in 1852.