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HECS debts to rise after Labor cuts a deal on legislation

The Australian    |     3 December 2015

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Improving equity through VET FEE-HELP

21 July 2015

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Two of the key architects of the original HECS, Dr Tim Higgins and Professor Bruce Chapman, have produced a new report that argues for Mitchell2significant reform to the income contingent loan scheme that would extend it to more VET students while making it affordable.  They argue that extending income contingent loans to more VET students is required to ensure equity among tertiary students,  but this would require adjustment to the current system otherwise it would not be financially sustainable or equitable. They note that when compared to university graduates, Certificate III and IV completers have low incomes and, for women, low employment outcomes. They propose that,  unless government funding for tertiary education is increased, there is a persuasive case for reducing the income repayment threshold, reducing the repayment rate and imposing a uniform loan surcharge across all tertiary students.  The following summary of the report –  Feasibility and design of a tertiary education entitlement in Australia: Modelling and costing a universal income contingent loans has been prepared by the Mitchell Institute which commissioned and published it.

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The Mitchell Institute commissioned Higgins and Chapman to prepare the report following the release of its issues paper, Financing tertiary education in Australia the reform imperative and rethinking student entitlements, in February 2015 by Mitchell Professorial Fellow Peter Noonan and Mitchell Policy Analyst, Sarah Pilcher.

The February paper proposed the potential expansion of Australia’s successful income contingent loan scheme to all Australian tertiary students from Certificate III upwards as part of a new model for tertiary education funding across the Commonwealth and state governments.

This latest report to the Mitchell Institute presents the outcomes of various financial modelling, conducted by Higgins and Chapman, of the potential costs of applying an income contingent loan scheme to include all tertiary education students.

The Mitchell Institute will draw on the Higgins and Chapman report to finalise its proposal for an integrated tertiary education funding system in Australia.

What is an income contingent loan?

At present, there are a range of different income contingent loans schemes operating in Australia’s higher education and VET sectors. Under such schemes, students are not required to pay the upfront cost of their course. Instead, they are able to take out a loan with the government and repay the loan through the taxation system once they enter the workforce and their incomes reach a certain threshold.

But these loans are not available to all students. In the VET system, those studying for Certificate III and most Certificate IV VET courses, for example, early childhood education, aged care, and hospitality, do not have access to an income contingent loan. These students must pay the cost of their course upfront – a potential barrier as fees for many of these courses are increasing.

Go8 Equity scales

 What does the Higgins and Chapman paper say?

The Higgins and Chapman paper says there are strong public policy arguments for extending the income contingent loan system to include more tertiary students, but that doing so would mean revisiting some of the fundamental parameters of the existing income contingent loan scheme.

The authors re-examine the basic rationale for income contingent loans as a policy intervention, setting out several key reasons for extending and revising the current system.

What is the policy rationale for extending income contingent loans to more tertiary students?

Higgins and Chapman suggest that left to itself, the tertiary education market will not meet the needs of individuals, employers or the economy. They argue extending income contingent loans to more tertiary students is required for the following reasons

1.    To ensure equity among Australian tertiary students.

Current settings treat students differently depending on the sector in which they study, the type of provider organisation at which they study, the level of the qualification, and the state in which they live. This has led to unnecessary complexity and inequity in tertiary education and decreases our stock of human capital

2.   To ensure greater policy coherence and transparency.

The current system may not be creating the right incentives. The existence of upfront fees in some settings, and the variability of those fees, is likely to affect student choice.

Uneven policy settings may curtail, and in some cases, restrict students’ choices, and this is likely to disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

3.  To ensure the ongoing financial sustainability of the income contingent loan system.

Currently the Commonwealth is paying not only a course subsidy but a loan subsidy (this arises because some debt may not be repaid and because interest charged on the loan is less than the government’s cost of borrowing), and this varies greatly depending on a graduate’s income. Understanding and quantifying these loan subsidies is vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of the scheme.

The income threshold for repayment was originally set with reference to average full and part-time earnings – the rationale being that if a student never earns a greater than average wage, they have not realised the private benefits of their study and therefore do not need to repay their debt. These settings, conceived at a time when tertiary participation rates were much lower, may no longer suit a world of near universal tertiary education and training.

  What are the key findings of the Higgins and Chapman paper?

The Higgins and Chapman report seeks to quantify the largely hidden subsidies involved in income contingent loans through unpaid debt and the difference between the rate at which debt is indexed and the costs to government of borrowing to finance student debt.

The modelling mapped students’ projected incomes by qualification level, finding significant variation in lifetime incomes across VET and higher education qualifications.

Higgins and Chapman found that extending current income contingent loan arrangements to a broader scheme would require adjustments, as doing so under current settings would arguably be neither financially sustainable nor equitable.

The paper finds that extending the current income contingent loan system to a broader range of students would result in:

1.  High loan subsidies for some students and qualifications.

This is particularly the case for Certificate level qualifications and also for female graduates because females experience much lower rates of full time employment. This has a significant effect on lifetime incomes and capacity to repay an income contingent loan.

2.  High variability in the effective subsidy rate between different groups of students.

This variability in loan subsidies means costs are not shared transparently or equitably among the pool of borrowers and the Commonwealth.

Given these conclusions, the paper then presents modelling that changes a number of key variables of the income contingent loan mechanism, including:

  • the repayment rate;
  • the income level at which students commence repayments;
  • the interest rate applied to the loan; and
  • loan fees or surcharges, noting that these currently exist for FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP, but not HECSHELP.

Changing these settings can have a significant impact on how much, and how quickly, debt is repaid.

It also highlights the complexity of equitably sharing the costs of income contingent loans between the individual student, the pool of student borrowers and the Commonwealth (or taxpayers).

This involves not only a consideration of the public and private benefits of tertiary study or training, but also the extent to which the policy settings create cross-subsidies from some cohorts of students to others.

The paper also explores a range of broader policy issues including:

  1. Federalstate responsibilities where the Commonwealth operates the income contingent loans scheme but the states/territories fund VET and could transfer costs to students and through them to the Commonwealth.
  2. Setting fee policies and public funding appropriately so that students don’t take on debt for excessive fees that will not be fully or ever be repaid as a consequence of inappropriate provider behaviours.

Women have generally less capacity to repay their income contingent loans than men as a consequence of lower levels of workforce participation. There are also important interactions between the tax system, family benefits and child care costs meaning that repayment rates and the level at which repayments commence have to be carefully considered.

What do Higgins and Chapman conclude?

Higgins and Chapman argue that on balance, if income contingent loans are offered to Certificate III and IV students – but if state/territory and Commonwealth governments are reluctant to increase funding of tertiary education – then the modelling makes a persuasive case for reducing the income repayment threshold, reducing the repayment rate and imposing a uniform loan surcharge across all tertiary students. The authors see these measures as a viable means of ensuring consistency while also ensuring that additional costs of the system are progressively shared across the pool of borrowers.

About the authors 

Tim_Higgins-300x300Dr Timothy Higgins is Senior Lecturer and researcher in Actuarial Studies at the Australian National University. Prior to academia, he worked in the Department of Treasury where he was involved in the design and costing of public policy, including the HECS scheme. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia and has been a consultant on higher education policy to the Australian government. He has written extensively on the design, application and costing of income contingent loans.

Professor Bruce Chapman is Professor of Economics and Director, Policy Impact at the Crawford School of Public Policy Bruce Chapmanat the Australian National University. He is widely regarded as the architect of HECS, the Australian income contingent loan scheme for higher education. He has extensive experience in public policy, including as a senior economic advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating, 1994–96, and as a higher education financing consultant to the World Bank and the governments of Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Canada, the UK, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malaysia, Colombia, the US, Chile and China.

 

TDA Newsletter 20 July 2015

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HECS architects urge change to repayments and extension to VET

Two of the key architects of the original HECS have produced a new report that argues for significant reform to the income contingent loan scheme that would extend it to more VET students while making it affordable.

The report, ‘Feasibility and design of a tertiary education entitlement in Australia: Modelling and costing a universal income contingent loan’, has been prepared by Dr Tim Higgins and Professor Bruce Chapman for the Mitchell Institute.

They argue that extending income contingent loans to more VET students is required to ensure equity among tertiary students.

But they say this would require adjustment to the current system otherwise it would not be financially sustainable or equitable.

“For our exercises it is important to note that when compared to university graduates, Certificate III and IV completers have low incomes and, for women, low employment outcomes,” the report says.

They argue that unless government funding for tertiary education is increased, there is a persuasive case for reducing the income repayment threshold, reducing the repayment rate and imposing a uniform loan surcharge across all tertiary students.

 


Victoria’s VET review proposes funding shake-up

Victoria’s review of the VET sector has examined ways of preserving government funding for high quality providers, protecting students from rorts, and easing the regulatory burden on low risk providers.

The VET Funding Review is headed by former TDA chair Bruce Mackenzie. Its latest Issues Paper examines ways of better linking training to the needs of industry and supporting the role of TAFE.

“Many felt that the administrative, audit and compliance requirements on providers were both overly burdensome and of limited value, being too focussed on inputs and paper-based checks, rather than concern for the quality of training provided,” the review says.

“TAFEs are at different stages of a transition and structural reform process, and some TAFEs considered that a degree of consolidation would be either necessary or desirable in the medium term to ensure the viability of the TAFE sector.”

It notes “repeated and erratic funding changes” by government, largely in response to poor provider behaviour.

“However, a number of stakeholders likened government’s response to the ‘whack-a-mole’ game, where the latest example of undesirable behaviour is ‘whacked’ by the government, only for other undesirable behaviour to pop up elsewhere.”

See the VET Funding Review.


Minister Birmingham flags growth in China partnerships

The Minister for Skills and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, has actively promoted the expansion of Australian China partnerships in delivering vocational education and training.

Last week the minister led a delegation of Australian VET representatives to China, which included TDA Deputy Chair Dianne Murray.

The minister announced a number of initiatives including cooperation between ASQA and CEAIE in ensuring the quality of joint provision as well as greater opportunities for cooperation through the Australia China Free Trade Agreement.

The minister also singled out Box Hill Institute of TAFE’s partnership with the Shanghai Pharmaceutical School as a “brilliant example of Australian international vocational education”.

TAFE institutes across Australia have led the development of joint programs in China with almost 50,000 students currently studying Australian qualifications through these partnerships.

See more.


Minister sees Sydney TAFE’s Korea polytechnic project    

Minister Birmingham visiting Korea Polytechnic

The Minister for Skills and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham was welcomed last Friday by Sydney TAFE Institute Director David Riordan as he visited Korea Polytechnic (KOPO).

Sydney TAFE has negotiated with KOPO to deliver competency based training for over 1,000 of its current teachers over the next three years.

KOPO is the only comprehensive technical vocational education and training college in Korea, with 46 years of history.  It has been backed by the Korean government’s financial support since the vocational training law was enacted in 1967.

It moved to competency based training two years ago and is now looking to upskill 1,500 staff over the next three years.

The minister met the first group of trainees as they commenced their training program, which includes further training and assessment in Sydney. Minister Birmingham also hosted an industry forum and reception in Seoul.


Victoria releases international student growth strategy

The Victorian government has proposed new avenues to grow the state’s international education sector.

It has released a discussion paper on international education as part of its $200 million Future Industries Fund.

It says the VET sector accounts for 25% of international students in Victoria, with major markets being India and China.

“The nature of global demand for training and the recent resurgence of key competitors like the United Kingdom and Germany means that Victoria’s VET offering must become increasingly nimble and targeted,” it says.

“In many instances this may mean delivering customised training products and skills sets which, while not leading to a qualification, draw on VET providers’ experience in delivering Australian training package qualifications.”

See the international education discussion paper.


Findings of three-year vocations project to be outlined at Sydney, Melbourne seminars

Is there a new way of thinking about vocational pathways from school and VET into the labour market?

Are narrow qualifications with limited employment outcomes still relevant?

Two LH Martin Institute seminars (Sydney, Thursday 23 July and Melbourne, Wednesday 29 July) are the outcome of the three-year Vocations project, which proposes a fundamental change in the way post-compulsory education is structured as a pathway to work.

Experts at the Sydney seminar include Pam Christie (TAFE NSW), Peta Furnell (VET Reform Taskforce) and Andrew Dettmer (Australian Manufacturing Workers Union).

Melbourne will feature Rod Camm (ACPET), Pat Forward (Australian Education Union) and Craig Robertson (Victorian Department of Education and Training).

Each seminar will hear presentations from Professor John Buchanan (University of Sydney) and Jodieann Dawe (NCVER), while Professor Leo Goedegebuure (LH Martin Institute) will be facilitator.

Register for the seminars.

See the report.



Diary Dates

2015 ACODE Learning Technologies Leadership Institute
DATE: 17-21 August 2015
LOCATION: Mantra at Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
DETAILS: More information

TAFE Managers Association 2015
DATE: 21 August 2015
LOCATION: Luna Park, Sydney
DETAILS: More information coming soon.

National Skills Week
DATE: 24-30 August 2015
DETAILS: More information.

VET Development Centre
Teaching and Learning Conference

DATE: 3-4 September 2015
LOCATION: RACV Torquay Resort, Victoria
DETAILS: More information.

TDA National Conference
DATE: 9-11 September 2015
LOCATION: Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart
DETAILS: More information.

National VET Conference
Velg Training

DATE: 17-18 September 2015
LOCATION: Adelaide Convention Centre
DETAILS: More information.

Australian International Education Conference 2015
International education: global, responsible, sustainable

DATE: 6 – 9 October 2015
LOCATION: Adelaide Convention Centre
DETAILS: More information.

2015 Australasian Genomic Technologies Association (AGTA) Conference
DATE: 11 – 14 October 2015
LOCATION: Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, NSW.
DETAILS: More information.

2015 AUSTAFE National Conference
Bringing TAFE and VET to the Nation’s Capital

DATE: 28 – 30 October 2015
LOCATION: Canberra
DETAILS: Contact National President Jerome.DeRose@cit.edu.au

Grattan Newsletter 19 May 2015

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Budget Policy

This year’s Budget might be good politics but the long-term costs of a timid budget are insidious and they fall heavily on middle-income earners, young people and people who are not even born, write Grattan Institute CEO John Daley and Grattan Fellow Danielle Wood in The Australian. The Budget is likely to keep more people happy than the 2014 Budget, but it not only does nothing to address Australia’s long-term budgetary challenges, it is built on denial that we have a problem at all, write John Daley and Danielle Wood in The Conversation. Three days after the Budget, Commonwealth Treasury Secretary John Fraser made his only public statement on the Budget and Australia’s long-term economic outlook in conversation with John Daley at the State Library of Victoria. See the podcast.

The biggest change over the past two Budgets – the Commonwealth’s tearing up of agreements with the states over health and education funding – remains the least discussed, writes John Daley in The Australian Financial Review. States should claw back the money they lost with a new “Commonwealth hospital contribution replacement levy” on property.

There are other opportunities to reduce the Budget deficit without hurting the economy, and John Daley sets out some of them in The Australian Financial Review. At the State Library, John Daley and Danielle Wood hosted an expert panel discussion on the most attractive and realistic options for repairing Commonwealth and State revenues. Labor’s proposal to rein in superannuation concessions is a step in the right direction but what it leaves is still far too generous, writes John Daley in The Australian Financial Review. Wealthy people will continue to receive excessive tax benefits from super, and younger people and those on low and middle incomes will keep footing the bill.

It is also State budget season. Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas could have made better use of the beautiful numbers in his first Budget, writes Danielle Wood in The Drum. The Treasurer would do well to heed the lesson his federal counterpart is now enduring: Victoria shouldn’t bank on the good times lasting. Western Australia has already spent the boom-time money and plans to repair the Western Australian budget rely on optimistic forecasts, as John Daley and Brendan Coates write in the Western Australian.

Transport

Tony Abbott promised to be the infrastructure prime minister, but the 2015 Budget has only three infrastructure announcements and two of them appear to be good politics ahead of good policy, writes Transport Program Director Marion Terrill. It is time to have another go at making big project decision-making more transparent.

Health

In the lead-up to the Budget the Government promised to go to “war” with pharmaceutical companies over high drug prices. Instead, it capitulated, writes Health Fellow Peter Breadon in The Australian. The Budget introduced some useful measures to improve cancer screening and access to online medical records but lacked a big picture agenda on primary care, writes Peter Breadon in The Conversation.

The Government has replaced Medicare Locals with Primary Health Networks in an attempt to better co-ordinate primary health care. The two documents that shaped the establishment of the Networks are strong on clinician engagement but weak on community engagement, writes Health Program Director Stephen Duckett in Health Voices, the Consumers Health Forum journal.

Productivity Growth

High fees are hurting the superannuation balances of Australians, taking at least $40,000 from the accounts of millions of people before they retire, according to the Productivity Growth Program’s latest report, Super Savings. Government action can drive them down, taking the pressure off individuals at retirement and off government pension payments. Both superannuation administration and investment fees are too high, and could be reduced if the Government ran a fee-based tender for the right to administer default funds, writes Program Director Jim Minifie in The Financial Review.

Energy

The Commonwealth Government consistently portrays a positive future for Australia as a global energy superpower in coming decades, yet that future only exists if global temperatures rise beyond two degrees, an outcome the Government has pledged to try to stop. It’s time to be consistent, writes Tony Wood in The Conversation.

The Commonwealth Government’s new target for emissions reduction, due to be announced by mid-year, could be a real opportunity to restart serious action on climate change, writes Energy Program Director Tony Wood in The Financial Review. But it requires a level of commitment from the Government that has been absent so far, and time is running out. The Climate Change Authority has already recommended that Australia adopt tougher targets of 19 per cent reduction in emissions below 2000 levels by 2020 and 30 per cent below 2000 levels by 2025. In this event at Melbourne University, Tony joined Shayleen Thompson, acting CEO of the Authority, and Erwin Jackson of the Climate Institute, to discuss why the Authority set these new targets and how Australia might meet them.

The Safeguard Mechanism introduced under the Emissions Reduction Fund to prevent unplanned rises in emissions has many weaknesses, but it could form the base of a new emissions trading scheme, writes Tony Wood in The Conversation.

Higher Education

In recent years the number of students in higher education has surged and so has the cost of the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), putting pressure on the budget. The government is right to move to collect student loans from overseas debtors but of all possible reforms to the loan scheme, ending the debt write-off at death would do most to ensure it remains viable, writes Higher Education Senior Associate Ittima Cherastidtham in The Conversation.

Cities

Councils in Melbourne’s inner and middle suburbs are continuing to block new housing development, no doubt as a response to the wishes of vocal residents. The trend must stop if we are to keep Melbourne from becoming a divided city, writes Cities Fellow Paul Donegan in The Age.

The Scan # 169 15 May 2015

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GDP spending on higher education set to fall to half OECD average

15 May 2015    |    Spending on higher education as a proportion of GDP will fall from 0.56% in 2015 down to 0.48% in 2018, well below the OECD average of 1%, an analysis of the 2015 Budget Education Budget2figures has determined. According to Vin Massaro, an honorary professorial fellow with the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, higher education spending is slated to drop from $9.3bn in 2015, to $8.9bn in 2016, $9.1bn in 2017 and back to $9.3bn in 2018, representing a drop in GDP every year. Massaro told The Australian that “we need to have a serious conversation about the sustainability of uncapped enrolments if the per capita funding levels are going to continue to slide and each place is to be funded at the same level irrespective of the institution and its research performance.” While the budget was based on an assumption the government’s reforms would pass the Senate, the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton says there would be both positive and negative consequences on forward estimates of the reforms not passing….[ MORE ]….

Former Fosters boss to head new skills body

Pollaers15May 2015   |     Former Fosters and Pacific Brands CEO John Pollaers has been appointed chair of the federal government’s Australian Industry and Skills Committee designed to put employers in charge of choosing which vocational qualifications are funded by government training packages. Assistant Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the new body will “put industry at the centre of the system”. Pollaers will head a 12-member body of industry representatives, including one nominated by each state and territory government, and a rotating member from the three main business groups, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group. The new committee is part of the government’s new model for training package development which will end the role of the 12 industry skills councils funded by government and replace them with a contestable system. The committee will sit above a new structure of industry reference groups – which will advise on the training qualification needs for each industry sector – backed by skills service organisations to provide administrative support….[ MORE ]….

Skills entitlement to be reviewed 

15 May 2015     |    The National Partnership Agreement on Skills, including the student entitlement to training, is to be reviewed, following the COAG meeting of federal, state and territory skills ministers in Melbourne on 8 May.  Simon Birmingham.  The ministers agreed to a “simpler, more responsive training system” under projects agreed by the meeting, according the Commonwealth skills minister Senator Simon Birmingham. Birmingham said he expects to see this work delivering changes, particularly relating to quality and relevance, in coming months….[ MORE ]…..

Science and innovation prizes

15 May 2015    |         The Victorian government has opened applications for two prestigious science and innovation award programs. The government will offer two Victoria Prizes for Science and Vic Science PrizeInnovation, in physical sciences and life sciences, alongside 12 Victoria Fellowships – six in physical sciences and six in life sciences.  The 2015 Victoria Prizes for Science and Innovation, valued at $50,000 each, are to recognise outstanding leaders in science and their research contributions to the Victorian community.  The Victoria Fellowships, valued at $18,000 each, support researchers in science, engineering and technology, who are in the early stages of their career and would benefit from an international study mission.  Recipients of these awards in 2014 included researchers in nanomedicines for the treatment of cancers and cardiovascular disease, and translational neuroscience in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.  Other research areas included sports engineering, cloud computing, materials science, environmental health, preventative therapies and mental health.  The two Victoria Prize recipients and 12 Victoria Fellows will be announced at an awards ceremony later this year….[ MORE ]……

No consensus on Lomborg centre

10 May 2015   |   Education minister Christopher Pyne has vowed to find another university to UWAhost the Bjorn Lomborg “consensus centre” and is seeking legal advice about a decision by the University of Western Australia (UWA) to hand back $4m in federal government funding awarded to establish the centre. UWA handed back the funding and dropped its connection with Lomborg, saying that lack of support among its academics made the centre untenable. In a statement to staff, UWA vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said that the planned Australian consensus centre, which would have been linked to Lomborg’s Copenhagen consensus centre, would have done important work, but “unfortunately, that work cannot happen here”….[ MORE ]….

Pyne’s research budget fix

8 May 2015    |   Science research infrastructure that was threatened by the government’s Budget cutscontroversial higher education reforms will receive a $300 million lifeline in next week’s budget – but at the expense of other research funding. Cutting the $1.8 billion a year research block grants is an easier option that doesn’t needing parliamentary approval or targets specific projects, but it will still hurt research. It’s reported that funding for the National Collaborative and Research Infrastructure Strategy will be given a two-year reprieve, with funding until 2017, totalling $300 million. Grattan Institute higher education expert Andrew Norton said the cut can be expected to reduce research. In contrast, he said a better option would be to cut the Commonwealth Grants Scheme that funds teaching and make up for it with a minor increase in student fees that won’t have any impact on participation. However such a move would need parliamentary approval….[ MORE ]….
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Budget 2015 (2)

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quote marksResearch programs take a hit as universities and students left in policy limbo.

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quote marksDespite more than three quarters of Australians opposing deregulation, and the Senate rejecting their plans for $100,000 degrees twice, the Abbott Government has kept its plans for university deregulation in this year’s budget.

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Budget 2015

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ABC News’ comprehensive summary of the 2015 Budget

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The Zombies that make the numbers look good

13 May 2015

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Zombies2The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly says the 2015 Budget has “one idea above all else right at its heart and that’s about saving the Abbott government.” Quite clearly The Oz’s stable of writers and analysts think it’s very much about positioning for an early election, should the portents seem promising.

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Too right it’s about positioning for an early election. As Fairfax Media’s Peter Martin observes, “the coalition’s second budget is propped up by “zombie measures” from its first. Announced a year ago but not yet passed in the Senate, they are politically dead but not yet formally abandoned, meaning the income or savings they would have raised can be used to dress up the second lot of budget forecasts regardless of reality.”

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Why UWA was right to reject the $4m Lomborg bribe

15 May 2015

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The spectacularly misnamed Australian Consensus Centre (as High Wired has appropriately called it) has been mired in controversey from start to its (apparent). Not a skerrick of consensus to be found anywhere. Critics of the decision by the University of Western Australia to walk away from it decry the decision as “soft censorship”, a denial of academic freedom, suppression of free speech. Well, it’s none of those things: universities are full of “contrarians” such as Bjorn Lomborg, in every field that you could name, and they’re of all persuasions. The objection here is not about Lomborg’s views (although plenty of people inside and outside universities do object), it’s about how he forms his views and how he chooses to portray them (and, to some extent, it’s about the company he keeps). Tristan Edis, the environment writer for Business Spectator, points to the logical flaws in his argument that there are higher priorities for public expenditure that dealing with climate change. Monash University academic Michael Brown says his conclusions aren’t the outcome of robust academic endeavour.

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 Lomborg’s false choices

quote marksIf we want advice on how we should best prioritise resources for the greatest good, there are better people to get it from than Bjorn Lomborg. Oh and by the way, they’ll provide this advice without a $4 million price tag.

Lomborg creates a process and set of artificial and arbitrary constraints that drive those involved (including economics Nobel laureates) towards prioritising between a range of things that are all extremely important while ignoring the need to question a far broader array of far less worthwhile and often downright wasteful things.

He is a man who has developed a routine, an act which the media find useful as a contrarian voice to achieve “balanced” reporting. So when a range of scientists and political leaders suggest global warming is a really serious problem, Lomborg jumps in front of the cameras and says something utterly unremarkable and well understood by development economists which seeks to downplay the problem by highlighting another serious problem like, for example, indoor air pollution.

 

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Climate inaction, the one point of consensus

quote marksLomborg’s approach lacks the academic rigour we expect from our top universities.

Lomborg’s Consensus Centre at UWA has been controversial, and many have welcomed the announcement that UWA will not be the centre’s host. While some political warriors are claiming this is a defeat for academic freedom, this is unjustified and overlooks Lomborg’s history.

Lomborg consistently misinterprets and makes selective use of scientific studies, to portray an overly optimistic view of climate change and its costs. The Copenhagen Consensus Centre process includes unrealistic assumptions that, by design, lead to arguments against immediate action on climate change. Lomborg’s approach lacks the academic rigour we expect from our top universities. Despite this, Lomborg is an effective lobbyist and popular with some politicians, so he will continue to have a significant media profile, even without the Australian Consensus Centre.

In a time of tight government spending, one has to wonder if federal dollars for Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre were intended to fund rigorous academic activity, or provide intellectual cover for the government’s inadequate climate change policies.

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Oliver on balancing debate

15 May 2015

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US talk show host John Oliver moderates a mathematically representative climate change debate, with the help of special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy.

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Shift happens

Redefining education

14 May 2015

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Digital technology has changed how society relates to knowledge. Deloitte’s Australian Centre for the Edge has investigated how this change in our relationship with knowledge might affect the education sector. Its White Paper, Redefining Education, released on 11 May , explores the future of the education sector and what it means to be ‘educated’.

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Deloitte 2Digital technology has changed how society relates to knowledge. Deloitte’s Australian Centre for the Edge has investigated how this change in our relationship with knowledge might affect the education sector. Its White Paper, Redefining Education, released on 11 May , explores the future of the education sector and what it means to be ‘educated’.

Lead author of the paper, Pete Williams, said the changes digital technology is driving might redefine how we view education.

Basically we are finding that the focus on what people know is being replaced by an emphasis on their ability to find and share new knowledge and ideas,At the same time, the relentless rise of digital technology means that traditional means of acquiring an education are being disrupted.

The White Paper identifies two emerging trends that highlight why the sector might be about to go through a change in paradigm.

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Keeping The Conversation going

13 May 2015

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The Conversation is an independent, not-for-profit media outlet that uses content sourced from the academic and research community. The Budget confirmed that the funding support it has received from the Australian Government since 2011 has ended. The funding The Conversation was seeking over 2 years ($2 million) is equivalent to 2 years funding the government proposes for the Lomborg Consensus Centre. Here’s a message from Andrew Jaspan, The Conversation’s editor, seeking donations.

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Life & stuff

14 May 2015

Red Cross Pop Up Op Shop

National Volunteer Week

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The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are:

Red Cross Principles

The RMIT Bookshop on Little La Trobe St Melbourne has provided space for a Red Cross Op Shop at its entrance until the end of the month.

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Red Cross volunteer Chris with a customer.

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Impact1

Impact for Women was founded in May 2006 by Kathy Kaplan OAM and a group of her friends with the specific goal of making a difference to women and children in crisis – specifically to Victorian women and their children living in crisis accommodation as they flee domestic violence. It has aspirations to go national.

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One Hundred Stories

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Monash University’s commemoration of the Great War.

25 April 2015

 

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Wall of Commemoration
The One Hundred Stories are a silent presentation. They remember not just the men and women who lost their lives, but also those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane, all those irreparably damaged by war. The Great War shaped the world as well as the nation. Its memory belongs to us all.

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Curriculum and course development

Business/ Hospitality ————————- Child care

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Curriculum1A dynamic and reputable education and training provider is looking to expand its offerings into higher education, initially at AQF Level 5 (Diploma) and AQF level 6 (Associate Degree) in the fields of Business/Hospitality and Childcare.
The provider is seeking to develop curriculum and course materials for these courses and requires the services of an experienced curriculum writer to assist it in this project.

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The Budget in their own words: National Tertiary Education Union

12 May 2015

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quote marksDespite more than three quarters of Australians opposing deregulation, and the Senate rejecting their plans for $100,000 degrees twice, the Abbott Government has kept its plans for university deregulation in this year’s budget..

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These plans include the full deregulation of tuition fees and a 20 per cent cut in funding effective 1 January 2016.

“The government is undermining our public university system by extending public funding to private providers,” explained Jeannie Rea, NTEU National President.

“This is something that staff, students and the public overwhelmingly reject. Yet the government is arrogantly pushing ahead,” said Rea.

Christopher Pyne’s surprise fix has turned out not to be a surprise at all with the NCRIS funded through $150m in cuts to the Sustainable Research Excellence initiative (SRE).

“Over $800m has already been cut from research, and now even more is being ripped away,” said Rea.

“The SRE funds the indirect costs of research and is crucial to maintaining the university research workforce.

“With award-winning Australian researchers already looking overseas for work, it’s not hard to imagine the impact of cuts like these,” said Rea.

Rea explained that funding for the NCRIS was included in last year’s budget, and passed, but was withheld by Minister Pyne in an attempt to force his deregulation bill through the Senate.

“While we welcome NCRIS researchers having their jobs and projects protected for another year, this behaviour shows that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to this government properly funding research.

The budget also confirmed the destruction of the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council (ATSIHEAC).

“Bodies like ATSIHEAC and the OLT are an important way of contributing expert and independent advice to the government on higher education policy. The OLT provides a grants system that recognises great university teachers.

“This is a pure case of robbing Peter to pay Paul with $5m in funding for AIATSIS coming from HEPP, a program set up to support underprivileged students to go to university. Many of these students include those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

“These bodies cost very little to operate. The only conclusion we can draw is that this is about silencing alternative views in the higher education sector, and hiding future cuts from meaningful scrutiny.

“It seems this is part of a broader plan to cut jobs under the guise of structural reform.

Rea said that no one should be fooled by claims that this budget is different to last year’s.

“It’s just more of the same from this government who are focussed on looking after the rich end of town at the expense of poorer people who are working hard to get ahead,” Rea concluded.

 

The Scan #167 16 April 2015

Student debt growing rapidly as compliance declines

Game of Loans16 April 2015   |    With student debt ballooning, reform of the FEE-HELP system (HECS) is now a pressing budget issue with the nation’s second biggest financial asset, after the Future Fund, being eroded as one in five debtors renege on their loans. That figure is expected to rise to 25% by 2017. The government will have more than $70 billion in unpaid university student loans on its books in another two years, double the figure owed in 2013-14. According to researchers Richard Highfield and Neil Warren, the loans system is being compromised by successive governments’ commitment to increasing participation in tertiary education while not paying adequate attention to repayment compliance, especially among lower income vocational students who are unlikely to meet the income repayment threshold for years, if ever. The rapid expansion of HELP debt has also been driven by extension of the scheme to vocational students, a move which has been marred by mass-scale rorting by dodgy colleges. It would grow even more rapidly under a deregulated university fee regime…..[ MORE ]…..

Science contributes $145 b to GDP

16 April  2015   |   A report released by Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist – The importance of Science & economyadvanced physical and mathematical sciences to the Australian economy – has found that advanced physical and mathematical sciences make a direct contribution to the Australian economy of around $145 billion a year, or about 11% of GDP. When the flow-on impacts of these sciences are included, the report finds the economic benefit expands to about $292 billion a year, or 22% of the nation’s economic activity.Chubb says that for the first time we now have the numbers on the table showing the importance of these sciences to the Australian economy. It is too easy to take the benefits of science and innovation for granted, and this report shows that the knowledge from these disciplines supports and enhances economic activity which benefits all Australians……[ MORE ]…..

V-C salaries take off

Fee increase216 April  2015   |   University heads have been pocketing substantial salary increases while demanding the Senate pass government legislation to allow fee deregulation based on the argument their institutions are cash-strapped. The biggest increase was for Sandra Harding, head of north Queensland’s James Cook University and chairwoman of peak group Universities Australia. Harding’s salary has increased 65 % in just four years — from $559,000 in 2010 to $927,000 last year, including a $79,000 pay increase last year. The highest paid vice-chancellor in Australia is Australian Catholic University’s Greg Craven, who took home a package of about $1.2 million in 2013……[ MORE ]…..

Fines for dodgy operators

16 April 2015    |   Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) breaching standards could be issued Quality2with an immediate fine under the new infringement notice scheme. New laws recently passed in the Senate require anyone, including brokers and other third parties, marketing a vocational education and training (VET) course to clearly identify which RTO is providing the qualification. Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, said that up until now the national regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) could only write warning letters, or take regulatory action such as cancelling or suspending a provider’s registration. He said he “hoped” the fines would act as a significant deterrent for training providers taking part in unscrupulous practices……[ MORE ]…..

International strategy welcomed

Flags

16 April 2015     |   The draft National Strategy for International Education released by the government in early April has been welcomed by the tertiary sector. The strategy defines three pillars of international education and six achievable goals to underpin Australia continuing to be a destination of choice for students, teachers and researchers. Submissions will be taken on the strategy until 29 May. …..[ MORE ]…..

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Milestones

Ian Jacobs takes over at UNSW

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Professor Ian Jacobs commenced as Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales in February 2015, succeeding Fred Hilmer, who stepped down after eight years in the role.

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Ian JacobsProfessor Jacobs came to Australia from the UK, where he had a distinguished career as a leading researcher in the area of women’s health and cancer and in university leadership. Immediately prior to joining UNSW he was Vice President and Dean at the University of Manchester and Director of the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, a partnership linking the University with six healthcare organisations involving over 36,000 staff. He was previously at University College London, where he created and led the Institute for Women’s Health, was Research Director of UCL Partners and Dean of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences.

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Curriculum and course development

Business/ Hospitality ————————- Child care

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Curriculum1A dynamic and reputable education and training provider is looking to expand its offerings into higher education courses, initially at AQF Level 5 (Diploma) and AQF level 6 (Associate Degree) in the fields of Business/Hospitality and Childcare.
The provider is seeking to develop curriculum and course materials for these courses and requires the services of an experienced curriculum writer to assist it in these project. For further information, email: inter.mediate@outlook.com .

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Comment & analysis

16 April 2015

Mistakes were made

Failure of the deregulation package and the way ahead

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The failure of the government to carry the Senate on its proposed higher education reforms can be put down to the government’s arrogance and heavy-handedness and what would politely be called its disingenuousness. Parts of the package were not without considerable merit – for example, extending public subsidies to the students of non-university higher education providers is a long overdue fairness measure and extending them generally to sub-degree programs could considerably improve retention rates. But overall, the package was seen to be poorly conceived and fundamentally flawed – certainly in respect of total fee deregulation.

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AUSTRALIA - UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY PROTEST

Mistakes were made, not the least the mistake of poor judgement by the university sector peak organisations, which came across as unalloyed supporters of the deregulation package: education minister Christopher Pyne was able to trumpet that the package had the support of “40 out of 41 vice-chancellors”, the single dissentient seemingly being Stephen Parker of the University of Canberra. It was never quite that straightforward – Andrew Vann (V-C Charles Sturt University) was, initially at least, as stridently opposed as Parker. At the outset, immediately after the Budget, Universities Australia, for example, called for changes to the package and a careful working through of the detail; and quite a few vice-chancellors expressed concern.

By and large, however, it’s true enough that the key plank of the package – unfettered fee deregulation – had the broad support of the university sector. And, at the end, the various university organisations were pleading with the Senate crossbenchers to pass the package.

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16 April 2015

Who should go to university?

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Conor King of the Innovative Research Universities group fears that in the absence of university fee deregulation, the demand driven-system will be dumped.

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New higher education minister Kim Carr is considering a rethink on the opening up of university places. AAP/Julian Smith
Back to the future?

Who should go to university, only the select or all who want to? It is the question that ran through the 2015 Universities Australia Conference in March. It is lurking behind the contentious funding and fees debate that has wracked higher education for the past year. It is the issue that determines how well higher education supports Australia’s future.

Gary Banks, former Productivity Commissioner, best illustrated the question. He revealed the ambivalence between the economist in him and the romantic academic. The economist argues human capital theory – the importance of each individual developing their education and skills to the optimum to apply in future work and life. The academic worries about the flood of people on campus, too many of whom do not meet the test of bright minds in pursuit of knowledge.

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15 April 2015

The social costs of high university charges

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Photo: Andrew Taylor
Photo: Andrew Taylor

This is an extract from Bruce Chapman’s submission to a Senate Committee inquiry into higher education fee deregulation (February 2015) in which he proposes a “progressive tax” on university funding as a means of constraining fees. He suggests the question of what the “right” price to charge students for public sector university teaching services “is not an argument that can be made easily with reference to economic theory or compelling evidence related to allocative efficiency. It is instead basically an ethical issue.”

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It needs to be asked: Does it matter that students/graduates might end up paying very high prices for higher education in Australia? Why should we be concerned about this possibility when it will still be the case that even with very high price rises, average lifetime graduate incomes will remain far greater than the incomes of non-graduates? This issue has exercised considerably my reaction to the fee deregulation debate since the Budget was brought down in May 2014. Some basic points are as follows.

There is no compelling and accurate answer to the question of how much students should contribute to the costs of running Australian public universities. Including my own research, all attempts to explain and measure the social benefits of university teaching are fraught with problems of inadequate data, less than convincing method and unclear conceptual interpretation.

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Life & stuff

6 April 2015

Image is everything

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News Corp photographer Brad Hunter will join Tony Abbott’s media staff later this month, raising concerns that news photographers will gain less direct access to the prime minister. .

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Abbott & kid asleep
The kid couldn’t take it any longer

Although it has long been a fixture in US politics, the Prime Minister broke new ground when he employed a former press gallery TV cameraman to his staff after the election, a move that frustrated television crews who found themselves forced to rely on footage provided by Mr Abbott’s press office.
It is not uncommon for the weekend television news to have only the Prime Minister’s weekly video message, recorded by his staff and distributed on a Sunday, to use in bulletins.
The videos were also distributed on social media, but it is often still photography that resonates best on the medium.

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Student debt growing rapidly as compliance declines

16 April  2015

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As student debt balloons, reform of the FEE-HELP system (HECS) is now a pressing budget issue with the nation’s second biggest financial asset, after the Future Fund, being eroded as one in five debtors renege on their loans. That figure is expected to rise to 25% by 2017. The government will have more than $70 billion in unpaid university student loans on its books in another two years, double the figure owed in 2013-14.

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HECS Debt
Source: The Australian

 

According to researchers Richard Highfield and Neil Warren, the loans system is being compromised by successive governments’ commitment to increasing participation in tertiary education while not paying adequate attention to repayment compliance, especially among lower income vocational students who are unlikely to meet the income repayment threshold for years, if ever.

The rapid expansion of HELP debt has also been driven by extension of the scheme to vocational students, a move which has been marred by mass-scale rorting by dodgy colleges.

It would grow even more rapidly under a deregulated university fee regime.

Highfield and  Warren say about 2.1 million people currently have a HECS debt. But many of them are avoiding their repayment obligations by either going overseas, non-lodgement of tax returns or by exploiting tax deductions for gifts or self-education expenses to keep their incomes below the repayment threshold.

They say a handful of simple measures would recoup billions easily from the FEE-HELP, without political fallout, such as:

  • reducing the repayment threshold to around $40,000 and reducing the initial repayments to 2% would result in an additional $869 million being collected by government each year (graduates currently start repaying their debt at 4% of their salary when it hits $53,345)
  • collecting from graduates who go overseas, as occurs under the UK and NZ systems.
See:
Does the Australian Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) undermine personal income tax integrity?
Runaway loans: students set to owe $70bn
HECS reform even more pressing
Would restoring or increasing discounts for up-front student contribution payments improve HELP’s finances?

Mistakes were made

16 April 2015

Failure of the deregulation package and the way ahead

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The failure of the government to carry the Senate on its proposed higher education reforms can be put down to the government’s arrogance and heavy-handedness and what would politely be called its disingenuousness. Parts of the package were not without considerable merit – for example, extending public subsidies to the students of non-university higher education providers is a long overdue fairness measure and extending them generally to sub-degree programs could considerably improve retention rates. But overall, the package was seen to be poorly conceived and fundamentally flawed – certainly in respect of total fee deregulation.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….……

AUSTRALIA - UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY PROTEST

Mistakes were made, not the least the mistake of poor judgement by the university sector peak organisations, which came across as unalloyed supporters of the deregulation package: education minister Christopher Pyne was able to trumpet that the package had the support of “40 out of 41 vice-chancellors”, the single dissentient seemingly being Stephen Parker of the University of Canberra. It was never quite that straightforward – Andrew Vann (V-C Charles Sturt University) was, initially at least, as stridently opposed as Parker. At the outset, immediately after the Budget, Universities Australia, for example, called for changes to the package and a careful working through of the detail; and quite a few vice-chancellors expressed concern.

By and large, however, it’s true enough that the key plank of the package – unfettered fee deregulation – had the broad support of the university sector. And at the end, the various university organisations were pleading with the Senate crossbenchers to pass the package.

Universities are many things, including advocates of the public interest. In this case, they seem to have lost sight of this traditional role and became advocates of their sectional interests. Sector leaders now readily admit that, whatever its initial flaws, the package as it ended up was clearly a dog’s breakfast. It would have provided a short term money fix, at great social cost and to the medium term detriment of the budget. It would have had to been soon revisited and the whole debate about “sustainability”, “fairness” and everything else would start all over again. Yet until the last gasp university leaders continued to broadly support it.

Universities are admittedly between a rock and a hard place. With declining public funding of higher education per student – the Abbott government’s proposed cuts merely continued a process initiated by the previous Labor government – the burden was always going to fall on students to replace lost public funding and provide a “sustainable” funding base for the future. And, more so than any previous government, the Abbott government has been bullying, hectoring and apparently vindictive, although in its next manifestation, it promises to be kinder and more inclusive. Yep.

So, what next?

Education minister Pyne has indicated that there will be some kind of “fix” in the forthcoming budget (12 May) and he will have a third attempt to get a “reform” package through the Senate. Goodness knows what that fix might but there would have to be something around moderating fee proposals to make the package palatable to the crossbenchers.

The Group of Eight appear steadfastly wedded to the modalities of the original package. In its “official response” to the second rejection of the package in March, it said:

For the past three years, the Go8 has consistently stated that the current funding model for Australian Universities is “broken”. It is for this reason that we have just as consistently supported the proposal for the deregulation of higher education fees as the only long term sustainable solution on offer. In the absence of another solution the Go8 continues to maintain that view.

Its concession to navigating such a package through the rocky shoals of the Senate is to propose not another root and branch review (“Higher education is already one of Australia’s most reviewed sectors.”) but “a de-politicised process” of review – what it is now calling a “pause” in the reform process. This would presumably enable calm and mature reflection on the subtlety and implications of various proposals now on offer to placate the market naysayers. However, the Go8 is not enamoured of such proposals. The supremely calm and subtle Glyn Davis (V-C Melbourne University) appeared to be stating the corporate view when he wrote recently that all these proposals rest on the same idea:

….deregulation will be acceptable only if constrained. Whether fees are limited by regulation or held down by complex, subtle mechanisms, universities apparently cannot be trusted with setting prices and must be controlled.

Quite so. The short answer to that would be that if you take the Queen’s shilling, you do the Queen’s bidding.

And, yes, many within the sector and the broader community believe just that: deregulation will be acceptable only if constrained.

One such mechanism proposed by higher education policy gurus Bruce Chapman and Dave Phillips is progressively “taxing” fee increases, so that, for every dollar that a university charges above a set fee threshold, it would lose a proportion of its total government subsidy. This would depend very much on where fee thresholds were set and the amount of subsidy that would be lost for exceeding each threshold. According to Chapman, the question as to whether or not universities should be constrained in their capacity to set fees is essentially an ethical one:

… if it is the case that fee revenues from price deregulation exceed considerably the costs of teaching, it is arguable that this is an improper use of a government instrument; basically put, it can be considered to be unfair. This then promotes a case for considering “excessive” fee increases in a space which economists label “negative externalities”, or, broadly speaking, as costs borne by us all, in this case because of the presence of an unreasonable/unfair use of policy power.

Chapman said that while it makes sense to allow different universities to charge different fees he strongly believed that unfettered fee deregulation is a recipe for disaster:

I’ve always thought it is unreasonable to give these quasi-private institutions because that’s what universities are if they have the power to charge whatever price they like the luxury of HECS, which would make considerable price rises inevitable.

Another alternative is to put a cap, pure and simple, on fees, sufficient to notionally allow some fee variation so-called “managed deregulation” (though experience here and overseas suggests any variation wouldn’t last long) . This is the position consistently argued by Janet Kristjanson, (V-C, Swinburne University of Technology) and latterly taken up by Peter Dawkins (V-C, Victoria University). She has suggested that, instead of totally deregulating fees in one go, the government could start slowly, with a new maximum cap, to reassure Australian students and their parents that fees wouldn’t reach the frightening levels some are predicting. A sensible upper limit on annual fees would take scary numbers like $100,000 off the table, keep potential fee rises within bounds the public may accept, and therefore make progress politically possible.

There’s also clearly the option to not deregulate fees in any material way whatever. A point implied by Stephen Parker is that while universities are obviously constrained by current funding arrangements, that doesn’t make them impecunious or anywhere near it. He says that if the public maintains its current level of contribution and universities work hard to bring down their cost base free up resources through careful planning of the system rather than letting market forces rip, the argument that the continuing sustainability of the sector without fee deregulation is nonsense.

In an indirect way this is supported by Andrew Norton (Director, Higher Education Program, Grattan Institute), who is an advocate of fee deregulation. In Norton’s assessment, even without fee deregulation, there are reforms in the package worth pursuing of themselves, particularly extending the public subsidy to both sub-degree programs and to students at non- university higher education providers. He says that “it would be a great shame if trying to achieve too much meant that we achieved nothing at all.”

He’s particularly concerned that the demand driven system might be dumped, as an alternative to fee deregulation and to contain the burgeoning growth in HECS (FEE-HELP) debt.

Which leads to the opposition. The Greens are implacably opposed to fees, let alone fee deregulation. Labor is not opposed to fees but is opposed to fee deregulation – and after losing office did a remarkable volte face on cuts to higher education which it had proposed when in government. Circumstances obviously change.

There’s serious concern that Labor’s solution might be to reintroduce caps on enrolment. As Conor King of the Innovative Research Universities puts it, Labor’s alternative to fee deregulation might be to dump its signature achievement in higher education while in government:

Labor is now at the point of walking away from one of the few unchallenged policies of the Rudd-Gillard Government and from the essence of the Hawke Government achievement in doubling school retention and expanding universities. It is the Gillard changes that have seen sustained growth in the number of science and technology students, and slowed growth in law students, despite his contrary assertion. Student demand is more attuned to employment potential and apparent future demand than the previous allocation system.

The X Factor in all this is Nick Xenophon – just one voice in the Senate , but undoubtedly the “first among equals” for the crucial cluster of independent senators who have decided the matter (senators Lambie, Muir, Madigan and Lazurus, in addition to Xenophon). He favours the “pause and reflection” period now championed by the Go8, he acknowledges that some degree of fee deregulation is necessary in the absence of additional public funding but he doesn’t support unfettered fee deregulation.

In the absence of further manic and bizarre behaviour by the education minister, that’s probably where it will end up: a “pause” as the options are weighed and, by the end of the year, some form of managed fee deregulation system.

After what transpired through the first two go’s at reform, that would be something of an achievement for the government.

Brendan Sheehan is the editor of The Scan and, among other things, a Senior Fellow of the LH Martin Institute.

The Scan 13 February 2015

Edition # 166

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Higher ed reforms referred back to Committee

12 February 2015 | Labor, the Greens and four independent senators (Senators Xenophon, Interest ratesLambie, Muir, Rhiannon and Lazarus) have joined forces to establish another inquiry into higher education reform, to report by 17 March. The committee will consider alternatives to deregulation, likely future demand for places and implications on student loans, research infrastructure and regional provision. The inquiry will also look to investigate “the appropriateness and accuracy of government -advertising in support of higher education measures” and “other related matters”. The University of Canberra is to hold a forum on 13 February to discuss alternatives to fee deregulation, to which key senators have been invited….[ MORE ]…..

Labor’s TAFE agenda in Queensland

12 February 2015 | With the Labor Party poised to form a minority government in Queensland, Annastacia3its promise to rescue the TAFE sector will now come into sharper focus. Queensland VET student numbers fell 38,000 in 2013. During the election campaign, Labor leader and soon to be premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (who pronounces her surname as “Pallashay”) made a number of commitments to address the vocational educational and training system, including:
• $34 million over three years to create up to 100 TAFE teaching and support positions, fund new training schemes in emerging industries, invest in student support services and subsidise foundation skills course for disadvantaged learners.
• $240 million over four years to fund industry and community-based organisations to deliver training schemes to 32,000 people.
• Ensure 10% of workers on major projects are apprentices and trainees and extend the requirement to government-owned corporations.

Victorian VET Funding Review announced

Bruce McKenzie110 February 2015 | The new Victorian Labor government has announced a comprehensive, independent review of the funding of Victoria’s vocational education and training (VET) system, as presaged during the election campaign. Minister for training and skills Steve Herbert says the VET Funding Review will provide a more sustainable model for public TAFE Institutes and private training providers. According to Herbert, the former Liberal government left Victoria’s training sector in crisis. Government contributions to public TAFEs fell from $733 million in 2011 to $468 million in 2014, leaving many TAFEs at risk of financial collapse. An interim report will be delivered by May with the final report completed later this year….[ MORE ]…..

Deakin and Bendigo Bank hook up

10 February 2015 | Deakin University, with its large presence in regional Victoria, has Deakin & Bendigoannounced a partnership with Australia’s only regionally based bank, Bendigo Bank. The heads of the two institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding in late January, committing both to explore ways to build brighter futures for students and Victorian and NSW regional communities. Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander and Bendigo’s Managing Director Mike Hirst launched the initiative by announcing 40 students would be granted scholarships for three years of study. Other initiatives being explored include the creation of a university Community Bank ; a scholarship fund of up to $1.3 million dollars and joint research prospects, and digital engagement/innovation opportunities, including mobile payment, crowd funding and communication initiatives with Bendigo Bank Telco….[ MORE ]…..

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Milestones

12 February 2015

Ian Young to step down

Vice-chancellor of the Australian National University and current chair of the Group of Eight PROF IAN YOUNG PRESS CLUBuniversities, Professor Ian Young, will step down from the position when his current term expires next year and return to research and teaching. Professor Young has remained research active throughout his time in senior executive roles, with his interests focussed on the understanding of marine environmental extremes, which he describes as a particularly important area in a time of significant climate change. As chairman of the Group of Eight, Professor Young has been a vocal proponent of fee deregulation.

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Comment & analysis

12 February 2015

How to break the higher education impasse

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The fragile consensus within Universities Australia around support for the government’s fee deregulation package has begun to fracture (it was always chimerical), with Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins proposing a “third way” between a high degree of regulation and unfettered regulation that combines managed deregulation with a stronger equity package and oversight. Canberra’s Stephen Parker has opposed the package from the get-go, with a number of other vice-chancellors having expressed reservations, including Swinburne vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson (Swinburne), Jane den Hollander (Deakin) and most recently University of Technology, Sydney, vice-chancellor Attila Brungs. While the government early in the year indicated that passage of the deregulation package would be “front and centre” of its agenda with the resumption of Parliament, after the recent prime ministerial wobble, the government is likely to be more amenable to substantial amendments, including managed deregulation (essentially a fee cap), in order to demonstrate its new found commitment to caring and sharing. Certainly managed deregulation would seem to resonate with independent senator Nick Xenophon’s thinking (who one suspects will be pivotal to brokering some sort of settlement). The question will be what’s dumped from the package, which currently includes extension of subsidies to sub-degree courses and higher education courses at non-university providers.

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Fees pay-here

Higher education reform in Australia has entered a delicate phase. The current impasse must be broken, but any move to do so too quickly carries the risk of an outcome that serves neither students nor universities. Most feared in the sector is the worst of both worlds, a scenario of funding cuts without any fee increases.

The best outcome is not to move to unfettered deregulation, which without safeguards would seriously risk disadvantaging many students. Nor is it a return to a highly regulated system. Instead we should pursue a sensible “third way” that combines managed deregulation with a stronger equity package and oversight.

In a world of tight government budgets and an expanding tertiary sector, the case for higher contributions from students, supported by income-contingent loans, has been convincingly argued. What is important is that, in the process, students get an enhanced education and good returns on their investment.

Unfortunately the form of deregulation proposed in the government’s initial package carried very significant risks. These included:

  • over-pricing and excessive debts
  • greater opportunities for already high-achieving students and inferior opportunities for those who need more support
  • greater opportunities for students from high socioeconomic backgrounds and weaker opportunities for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds
  • insufficient amounts of extra revenue going into improving teaching and learning and the student experience
  • some waste of public funds due to poor attention to effective transition to the new market system
  • higher education benefiting but vocational education being damaged.

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12 February 2015

The sorry state of the market

invisible_hand_of_the_market1-300x199With the recent Productivity Commission Report on Government Services showing VET enrolments declining in 2013 by more than 60,000 (3.9 %) – admittedly after some years of growth – a report by Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney – commissioned by the Australian Education Union – shows that large private training college chains have been generating extraordinary profit margins on the back of their recent access to public subsidies.

The report says the profit margins leveraged from public subsidies at three listed training companies — Vocation, Australian Careers Network and Ashley Institute of Training — averaged 35% in 2013. Victorian government funding of for-profit colleges had jumped from $137m in 2008 to $799m in 2013. Victorian government subsidi¬es bankrolled $606m in private college profits between 2011 and 2013.

Lead author Serena Yu said governments had opened up the training market to improve the accessibility, quality, affordability, respons¬iveness and transparency of delivery. “I can say emphatically that none of those have happened,” said Ms Yu.

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Vacancy for Research Officer at AEU

AEU logo

A temporary position of research officer is available at the Federal Office of the Australian Education Union for the period ending 30 November 2015. An attractive salary and superannuation package applies.

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Life & stuff

12 February 2015

Countless aeons

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As 2015 seriously kicks into gear, with Australia’s first government leadership challenge already out of the way, it’s useful to reflect on our place in the scheme of things. Vast as it is, our universe is finite – it has a beginning and an end in time and space. But as celebrity astrophysics professor Brian Cox has observed, there’s nothing to say that there’s the possibility – perhaps even the probability – of there being an infinite number of universes beyond our own.

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Setting priorities for the Victorian government in school education and post secondary training

johncain-podiumA seminar organized by the John Cain Foundation
5.30 to 7.00 pm, Tuesday 24 February 2015
Terrace Lounge, Ground Floor, Melbourne School of Government University of Melbourne Walter Boas Building (entrance opposite Wilson Hall)

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