After reducing federal spending on higher education for the next three years, the government told universities they could not cut undergraduate enrolments and would have to limit federally-funded postgraduate places. If institutions wanted to maintain their postgraduate enrolments, they would have to charge tuition fees.
However, the education deans say the reduction in postgraduate coursework places will seriously erode the professional development of practising teachers, reduce access to research programmes and undermine the research and infrastructure of education faculties.
In an analysis of the impact of the cuts on education faculties, the executive officer of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, Barbara Preston, says students in university education courses comprise up to a quarter of the enrolments in non-research postgraduate courses.
Ms Preston says most of these students are teachers unable to pay substantial tuition fees, and who do not get an adequate personal return from postgraduate study to justify the outlay.
Australian teachers earn a maximum of 43,000 dollars (Pounds 21,500) a year and generally receive no employment-related benefits from undertaking university courses. Similarly, school authorities rarely provide financial assistance to staff wanting to upgrade their qualifications, Ms Preston said.
"Experienced teachers will have little opportunity to develop skills and knowledge in new areas or to substantially upgrade their specialisations, " she said.
Ms Preston added that between 1991 and 1995, education's share of major non-research postgraduate programmes fell from 23 per cent to 19 per cent of enrolments.