The Commonwealth government has released a synthesis report of the past seven reviews of higher education over the past 30 years rather than conducting a further separate review in the wake of its failed higher education reform package.
Education minister Simon Birmingham told the Australian Financial Review’s Higher Education Summit said that the government is under intense time pressures to come up with a new and revitalised higher education reform package after its the package devised by former education minister Christopher Pyne was rejected by the Senate twice, largely due to intense community opposition over the plan to deregulate university fees.
The background paper summarises the findings of each major review of higher education from the 1988 Dawkins White Paper to the 2014 Kemp-Norton Review of the Demand Driven Funding System.
Birmingham said he had decided to reap the wisdom of these previous reviews rather than hold another one as he tries to push reset on the government’s failed higher education reform package.
These reviews show that for almost three decades Australia has been grappling with how to enable more students to access the benefits higher education offers – in terms of employment, earnings, social and cultural opportunities – while ensuring the system remains fair, high quality and affordable for both individuals and taxpayers.
He says he hopes to have a new reform package ready to take to the Senate by mid-next year before the expected date of the next federal election.
Birmingham flagged to the conference that a watered-down version of fee deregulation was still on the agenda, but acknowledged that Labor ran an effective campaign over $100,000 fees. He also flagged a possible overhaul of the HECS system and expansion of sub-degree places, saying “there is a valid need to stop treating non-degree bachelor and non-university pathways as second class options”.
While he will look closely at extending government subsidies to private colleges because it would encourage diversity, Birmingham said he is very wary after widespread rorting in the vocational sector.
He said quality must be guaranteed and government funding must never be structured in such a way as to attract providers like bees to a honey pot,”adding that he had been “somewhat scarred” by his role in having to “clean up in the poorly regulated vocational education market”.
The synthesis report identifies five overarching themes that had been common to all seven of the previous reviews even though student numbers had more than doubled during that time, now numbering over one million.
Common themes included how to adequately finance teaching and research while maintaining quality, as well as finding the right balance between student and government contributions have been central to all seven reviews.
Each of the reviews has also struggled with how to continue to expand the number of places, especially among under-represented groups, due to the need to produce graduates with the skills needed for new and emerging sectors in the economy. All have also addressed diversity, or the lack of it, between institutions.
8 May 2015 | Science research infrastructure that was threatened by the government’s controversial 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 ]….
7 May 2015 | A dodgy Melbourne employment agency and unregistered training provider that advertised jobs that did not exist in order to lure potential employees into paying for training or internships with the company has been fined $166,000 in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Consumer Affairs Victoria took action against the now collapsed entity Keat Enterprises in the court last week, after it investigated several complaints last year over Keat Enterprises’ “bait and switch” tactics. Keat Enterprises, which went into voluntary administration in June 2014 after the accusations reached the media, was found to have posted fake ads for graduate accountants and interns on Seek.com.au in order to lure applicants into its unaccredited in-house training. At the end of the fake job interviews, applicants were instead marketed training courses for work in the accounting industry, at a cost of between $2000 and $3000….[ MORE ]….
7 May 2015 | The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says it expects to lay charges against unethical private training colleges after one of its biggest investigations. ACCC chairman Rod Sims told the ABC the watchdog’s ongoing investigation into 10 unnamed private training providers around the country was at an advanced stage. The ACCC will end up taking some people to court to really send a signal about what’s acceptable and what’s not, he said. Sims said the ACCC is investigating misleading and unconscionable conduct including vulnerable people being signed up without their knowledge, offered cash and free tablets as inducements, the deliberate targeting of low income people, and companies spruiking outside Centrelink and community centres….[ MORE ]….
7 May 2015 | Whistleblowers have accused the Victorian Education Department of a cover up after its investigation into claims Box Hill Institute passed failing students found no wrongdoing. Four former teachers and two students wrote to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in March and claimed that in mid-2013 a number of Box Hill student’s exams were altered, increasing their marks to the pass rate of 50. They also contacted, who said the Education Department would investigate the claims. The whistleblowers also alleged that the TAFE failed to investigate concerns raised by three experienced teachers about suspected cheating by students. None of the complainants – who alleged exam papers had been altered to ensure struggling TAFE students passed – were contacted as part of the investigation. Box Hill Institute chief executive Norman Gray said the allegations “were always going to be unsubstantiated”. A spokeswoman for training and skills minister Steve Herbert said the whistleblowers were not contacted because there was “sufficient information available from detailed written information provided by the complainants”….[ MORE ]……
7 May 2015 | Australians who have moved overseas for more than six months will be required to pay back the same amount of their HECS debt as they would if they were residing in Australia from July 2017. In a pre-budget announcement, minister for education and training Christopher Pyne says the Australian Government will legislate to require all Australian graduates living offshore to start making HECS payments based on their income in the 2016-17 tax year if they earn above the threshold of $AUD 53,000. The government’s move will correct a long overdue anomaly in the repayment obligations of Australian graduates says Universities Australia….[ MORE ]….
5 May 2015 | Victoria’s major projects agenda has been scaled back in favour of upfront cash for schools, TAFEs, hospitals and services in a first budget aiming to deliver election promises and consolidating Labor’s election win. Spending increases over the next four years will be cranked up to 3% annually from 2.5% previously to the meet the demands of booming population growth and cost-of-living pressures. The budget includes $3.9 billion for students, schools, TAFES and early childhood development, with $325 million to refurbish and rebuild 67 schools and $111 million to build 10 new schools. Some $350 million, which has been previously announced, is being invested to support Victoria’s struggling TAFE system….[ MORE ]…..
3 May 2015 | Readers outside Victoria will not know much about about this scandal unfolding before the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption (IBAC). But for anyone who is, or has been, involved in the Victorian education sector the revelations are gob-smacking. It’s a story of greed, graft and betrayal by certain senior officials who have, for more than a decade, been looting the schools education budget, to the tune of millions of dollars. As the hearings are only in their early stages, who knows where it will end up: there are over 40 more witnesses to be examined. At the very heart of this corruption scandal was a small group of senior men who regularly met for lunch…..[ MORE ]…..
1 May 2015 | Sixteen Australian universities are listed in the Times Higher Education 100 Under 50 Rankings 2015, the largest national contingent, with University of Technology Sydney being the highest ranked. Swinburne University of Technology entered the ranking for the first time, which Swinburne’s vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson reflects its “dedication to producing outstanding research that is relevant, world changing and internationally recognised.” Kristjanson also made the point that “this should provide policy makers with confidence that Australia’s system of higher education is of world class. It should also cause us to continue to critically evaluate proposed changes, which would radically alter the policy and funding settings on which this success has been built.”….[ MORE ]…..
30 April 2015 | Australia’s higher education system has come third on a ranking based on performance across 36 disciplines, behind only the US and Britain and equal to Germany. Australian universities also came in third place based on institutions in top 50 positions in the 2015 QS World University Rankings by Subject. Australian National University topped the list of 29 local universities qualifying for the ranking, with four disciplines being scored among the top 10 in the world. Overall, Group of Eight universities dominated Australia’s presence in the rankings. Melbourne claimed top 10 spots in education (fifth) and law (eighth); Sydney’s top place was ninth in education….[ MORE ]….
29 April 2015 | Following allegations about Evocca College on the ABC 7.30 program in early March, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), the peak body for the private training sector, formally asked Evocca College to provide evidence against the allegations that have been made and issued a show cause letter as to why Evocca’s membership of ACPET should not be terminated. The threat of termination has now been withdrawn in the light of Evocca’s “detailed responses to ACPET’s concerns” which ACPET says showed that there is no evidence that Evocca acted contrary to legislation or policy. However, Evocca has been required to provide undertakings to improve its practices and quality oversight processes….[ MORE ]…..
22 April 2015 | Private training provider Vocation has been forced to recall more than 1,000 of its qualifications, including hundreds in child care and aged care, after Victorian regulators found the courses were sub-standard. Almost 200 students who completed a Certificate III in Child Care, 250 students who completed a Certificate III in Aged Care, and 383 students with a double qualification of business studies will have to hand back their qualifications and inform their employers. A total of 832 students, who all studied with Vocation in Melbourne between January until June last year, are affected. This latest audit by the Victorian Registration and Qualification Authority (VRQA) follows an investigation last year which found about 6,000 students had studied sub-standard courses….[ MORE]….
The Victorian Review of VET Funding, headed by former Holmesglen chief Bruce Mackenzie, is due to make an initial report to the government in early June (with its final report at the end of August). Over 750 submissions were made to the review by VET providers, industry and employers, students, teachers, parents and other interested parties, including by TAFE Directors Australia (TDA), representing the public providers, the Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET), representing private RTOs. Funding issues aside, on which there are significant issues, funding issues aside, TDA and ACPET aren’t worlds apart in what they propose. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
ACPET supports a diverse and competitive sector to drive quality and innovation….The private VET sector plays a significant role in contributing to the Victorian economy; through the development of the workforce and as well as supporting VET as a major export industry.
When the 2015-2016 federal budget is released on May 12 there will be much analysis of specific measures and all sorts of claims and counterclaims about deficits and debt will be made. The following “field guide” to the federal budget by Richard Holden, UNSW Australia Business School attempts to provide a taxonomy of the issues and help make some sense out of the sea of numbers to come.
The most obvious thing about the budget is that most components of it — especially the big-ticket items – require legislation. And as we saw last year, it’s far from obvious that in this polarised political climate that even issues that have support from the Labor Party will be passed. That’s a shame, and it leaves in the wind the Greens, who can’t even get behind indexing petrol excise to inflation — a policy which is perhaps the most economically sensible that this government has proposed. It’s good economics and good for the environment. But the Greens are against it. So basically the budget is what lawyers call “an invitation to treat”. It’s the starting point of a negotiation.
The budget papers will contain estimates of the budget surplus or deficit over four years. This is the so-called forward estimate period. This requires making assumptions about a bunch of macroeconomic variables that are far from certain. What will GDP growth be? What will the exchange rate be? What will inflation be?
You might ask why that last item, inflation, matters. That’s because it affects “bracket creep” where higher nominal incomes lead to higher taxes, despite no inflation-adjusted (or “real”) benefit. I have said elsewhere that this is a fiscal pillow for lazy treasurers because it delivers an inbuilt tax increase every year. So if there looks like there’s some good news in years three and four that’s probably because the government is: (a) assuming growth will be higher than it’s likely to be; and (b) because they are raising your taxes.
Monash University’s commemoration of the Great War.
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.
A 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.
Australians who have moved overseas for more than six months will be required to pay back the same amount of their HECS debt as they would if they were residing in Australia from July 2017.
In a pre-budget announcement, minister for education and training Christopher Pyne says the Australian Government will legislate to require all Australian graduates living offshore to start making HECS payments based on their income in the 2016-17 tax year if they earn above the threshold of $AUD 53,000.
“Currently, because graduates living overseas don’t have to do an Australian tax return, there is no way to know if they are earning above the threshold that triggers HECS repayments and many get off scott-free.
“There is no good reason why someone working as a banker in London or New York and earning over the threshold shouldn’t pay back what they owe Australia.”
This change is expected to recoup more than $140 million over the next ten years. It will include repayment obligations from 1 July 2017 based on 2016-17 income.
….a HECS-HELP loan repayment exemption has no place in the luggage of Australian graduates pursuing the overseas travel tradition.
This is a welcome move by the Government in improving the fairness and sustainability of the student loans scheme.
Such a system for recovering student loans exists in the UK and New Zealand, so there is no obvious reason why obliging Australian graduates living overseas to repay their HELP debt shouldn’t be adopted in Australia.
With the higher education reform package up for debate in the Senate this week, Universities Australia has made a last pitch to Senators arguing the package should be passed with amendments to make it “fair”. The National Tertiary Education Union has countered that amendments to make the package “fairer” will not change the fundamental unfairness of the plan to deregulate university fees to compensate for the government cutting university funding While on the numbers as they stand, it’s not looking a strong prospect for passage, a regional assistance package which guaranteed funding for the UTas campus at Burnie might just test Senator Lambie’s resolve to vote against all government legislation over the issue of Defence Force salaries. That would be a monumental backflip given that is part of the cause of her departure from the PUP but these are strange times. Similarly, erstwhile PUP fellow traveller Ricky Muir and former DLPer John Madigan might both be swayed by a dollop of dollars for Fed Uni. That would swing it.
As you are aware, without strong and sustainable universities, Australia risks being left behind.
Unfortunately, competing calls on constrained public finances have meant that per-student funding has decreased in real terms over a number of years.
It is now clear that a new approach to funding is needed to maintain the quality education students expect, but that approach needs to be fair.
This is where you, the Senators of Australia, have the chance to make a difference, a chance to champion a new higher education package that is fair for all: fair for students, families and taxpayers.
This is your chance to amend and pass a fair package that will leave a lasting legacy for our country.
This is why our universities are urging you to legislate the higher education reforms, with key changes to ensure fairness.
We are asking you to reduce the proposed 20% cut to university funding, to reduce the upward pressure on student fees.
Because that’s fair.
We are asking you to keep student loans indexed at CPI so our students are not burdened with unreasonable debt levels.
Because that’s fair.
We are asking you for an assistance package to make sure regional, remote and disadvantaged students don’t get left behind.
Because that’s fair.
Please seize the unique and privileged opportunity you have to shape a system that is fair for all.
That way you can ensure we have strong and vibrant universities driving a strong and vibrant country.
A country where we don’t get left behind.
A country where we Keep it Clever, but Keep it Fair.
Peak body representing Australia’s Universities
The Group of 8 consideration of the negative impact of the legislative impasse in the Senate on the government’s higher education package comes on the back of Melbourne University stating that it is unable to frame a budget for next year or beyond because there are to many “known unknowns. Neither can you say that its prognostications about the likely impact on other areas of university funding, such as research, are unreasonable: the government seems set to effect at least its savings, one way or another. Elsewhere, the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton suggests a freeze on student numbers would be on the cards if the deregulation package is ultimately blocked in the Senate.
Following the release of the report of the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee on 28 October, debate commenced in the Senate on the second reading of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 on 29 October but was suspended that evening. The Senate is scheduled to resume sittings on 24 November for two weeks before rising for the year. If the Bill is not passed in an amended form by 4 December, the Government may wait for a period in the first half of 2015 before reviving debate. Such drift would exacerbate anxieties among school students and parents who are already confused by misleading claims of exorbitant fee rises. It would also raise serious questions about timeframes for implementation.
At this stage no amendments have been flagged. The Senate Committee recommended that consideration be given to amending the proposed HELP loan indexation, and providing structural adjustment assistance for some institutions. The Government appears not to want to initiate amendments of its own Bill. The ALP and the Greens are opposing the Bill however it may be amended. It will be up to cross-benchers to initiate amendments, and Minister Pyne has indicated a willingness to countenance some modifications to the Government’s proposals, such as to the structure of HELP indexation.
This situation places disproportionate burdens on the cross benchers, many of whom are new to the complexities of the higher education policy field, and have many other matters to deal with, but have fewer resources than those simply opposing the Bill and making no effort to work on bringing higher education financing into contemporary relevance. The dissenting reports of the ALP and Greens’ senators proposed no viable alternatives for addressing the crisis left by the outgoing government in 2013 and cost-effectively catering for future growth in student demand.
Meanwhile, the Government is making it clear that it will pursue savings on higher education outlays one way or another. At immediate risk are the funds for Australian Research Council (ARC) research fellows and National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) research infrastructure, for which the previous government failed to provide ongoing funding. At longer-term risk are programs for research, research training and research infrastructure, with associated job losses and a bleeding of talent, and a rapid decline in the reputation race where rankings underpin Australia’s success in the education export industry. Research-intensive universities would be hardest hit initially but the impact would be felt eventually all over the university sector. Without a capacity to diversify income sources the only outcome would be the further deterioration of quality.
As the cross bench senators weigh up the government’s higher education reform package, including university fee deregulation and student loan interest rates, they might well consider a comparison table released by Swinburne University of Technology to assist in the evaluation of four policy options that have been canvassed to moderate against excessive student fee increases from 2016.
Experts have predicted that the price of degrees will increase significantly from 2016. The proposed flat fee of $16,000 per year announced by the University of Western Australia for 2016 represents an increase over 2014 prices, ranging from +56% (Bachelor of Commerce) to +166% (Bachelor of Arts).
Any price rises from 2016 are likely to be compounded by the operation of the HELP scheme, which ensures that price signals are weak for consumers at the time of purchase. There will be no upper limit on the amounts that students can borrow either for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees from 2016.
A number of mechanisms have been proposed to moderate likely fee increases from 2016. Swinburne University of Technology has proposed an annual student loan limit (a ‘soft cap’) as one means of exerting downward pressure on price from 2016. Other options that have been canvassed include an advisory committee, a pricing regulator and the establishment of new maximum student contributions for higher education (a ‘hard cap’).
This resource presents how each of these four policy options would work and how strongly each would operate to produce downward pressure on prices set by higher education providers from 2016.
Steven Schwartz was vice-chancellor of Macquarie University from 2006 to 2012 and is currently director of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Interestingly he is an academic advisor to Centre for Independent Studies, libertarian thinktank “actively engaged in supporting a free enterprise economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents”. With this background, you’d think Schwartz would be a natural proponent of university fee deregulation. You’d think wrong . In this opinion piece published in The Australian on 29 October Schwartz demonstrates himself to be somewhat of a sceptic that fee deregulation will result in a market in which price will reflect course value.
In 1989, the federal government set undergraduate university fees at $1800 a year. If prices had increased in line with inflation, the fee today would be $3481.
Instead, university fees range from $6044 to $10,085, vastly outstripping inflation.
This stratospheric increase would be an argument for government-mandated price controls except for one problem: the government did control university fees during the entire 25-year period. And it still does.
Without government price ceilings, university fees would have soared even higher. Vice-chancellors certainly wanted them to. If university prices are deregulated, as the government proposes, they will get their chance.
In an extraordinarily generous act to its competitors, the University of Western Australia has signalled it will charge $16,000 a year, about double the current average fee. Get ready; the price of studying is about to skyrocket.
What additional value can students expect to receive for higher fees? Smaller classes? Extra tutorials? New courses?
On this topic, universities have been silent. There will be money for research, salaries and new cadres of administrators (non-teaching staff numbers already exceed teaching staff in all universities).
What’s in it for students? So far, the answer is: nothing at all. Indeed, graduates may find themselves worse off.
Consider the story of a plumber who was called out to unblock a brain surgeon’s toilet. The job took 10 minutes and the bill was $300. “What? Three hundred dollars for 10 minutes?” said the doctor. “That’s $1800 per hour. I don’t make that much, and I’m a brain surgeon.”
“I know,” the plumber replied, “I didn’t make this much when I was a brain surgeon either.”
This story is an exaggeration, of course. Brain surgeons make more than plumbers, and the average graduate makes more than the average non-graduate, but the gap is narrowing around the world.
The British graduate premium — the difference between the salaries earned by graduates and average national salary — has shrunk 22 per cent in the past decade. The same thing is happening in the US, where 9 per cent of university graduates have no job at all, even a year after graduation.
The Australian budget papers tell a similar story: reduced employment prospects for graduates in the coming years. It’s already happening. Ian Li, of UWA, reported a rising trend for graduates to wind up in non-graduate jobs or have no job at all. Using 2011 census data, economist Phil Lewis has reported a decline in the earnings advantage that our graduates enjoy over school-leavers. Most still have an earnings advantage, but 20 per cent would have been better off financially if they had never gone to university.
Graduates will face a double whammy: higher fees and lower employment prospects. In other words, they will pay more and receive less. If graduates never make enough to repay their loans, taxpayers will have to absorb the difference. So, it is inevitable that taxpayers will be paying more too.
Please don’t get me wrong; a university education is not just about money. As the director of an organisation dedicated to advancing the arts, I know that education confers many valuable gifts.
It broadens horizons, supports citizenship and, when it works, it creates a respect for learning. Still, the government’s rationale for making students pay more for higher education is the financial benefit they will receive. This rationale is severely undermined if these benefits fail to materialise.
Perhaps this is too pessimistic. Maybe, deregulation will create an education market in which students will have access to all the information they require to make rational choices. A market in which price will reflect course value. It’s not impossible, but don’t hold your breath.
It’s hardly news that all the university groups are as one that there is no alternative to fee deregulation to provide the funding to maintain the quality of Australian higher education (given declining public funding). They are not as one on how the proposed Commonwealth Scholarship scheme funding (provided by students) should be divvied up: the Group of 8 and ATN argue the money should be held and disbursed by the collecting institution, the RUN and IRU argue that it should be pooled and disbursed on a needs basis.
Drawing on a survey which shows 56% of Australians support the deregulation of university fees if the Senate makes changes to secure fairness for students, families and taxpayers, Universities Australia. UA proposes three key changes to the package:
• reduce the magnitude of the 20 per cent cut in the government contribution to relieve upward pressure on fee price;
• maintain the CPI interest rate on student loans; and
• provide for an adjustment package to assist with the transition to a market-based system.
Chief executive Belinda Robinson said that we have a problem with funding Australian universities sustainably that must be addressed.
Let’s not kick the can down the road for another generation to grapple with and risk the quality and competitiveness of our higher education system.
The passage of the bill with changes proposed by RUN would help regional students attend and succeed at regional universities and would increase the number of professionals working in regional Australia. The findings of the committee in large part support the changes that RUN has been advocating in relation to interest rates, transitional funding and scholarships.
It is important to encourage students to study in regional Australia so that they will work in the regions. The decision to study at a particular university should be at the choice of the student, not because one university or another can offer large scholarships.
The Go8 supports the direction of the proposed reforms. The Australian higher education sector is at a turning point: current settings are not sustainable and a new approach is needed. The improvements recommended by the Committee will prevent unintended negative impacts on students, graduates and universities, while diversifying the range of study options for students.
Let’s not kick the can down the road for another generation to grapple with and risk the quality and competitiveness of our higher education system.
The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee report supports the need to pass the Bill and confirms important areas for change in not imposing the ten year bond rate to index all HELP debts and for a structural adjustment fund to support the transition for all universities. It is unfortunate, given the recent flurry of claims about the proposed Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme, that the Committee avoided the options to make it workable. The IRU continues to support the need to pool the funds for Commonwealth Scholarships so that universities have funding for scholarships in line with their enrolment of students needing financial support.
At heart, the role of universities is to educate and to develop knowledge. To do this well universities need more resources.
ATN recognises the pragmatic need for the removal of the current maximum student contribution amounts that providers can charge for Commonwealth supported places – the so-called ‘deregulation’ of the domestic higher education system. There are a number of key points which have been clearly articulated by Universities Australia as representing the view and needs of the sector:
• We must reduce the magnitude of the 20% in the government contribution
• We cannot burden students with a loan scheme linked to the long-term bond rate
• We must actively assist universities during a transition from regulation to deregulation
• We must progress a commonwealth scholarship scheme devolved to the individual institutions for its implementation
• We must ensure appropriate oversight is put in place over implementation of the changes advanced.
… the complex reality is that provision of [an affordable and accessible] system for future generations of students requires action now, to ensure that sustainable funding base is secured.