If there is the collective will, a window of opportunity has opened for a serious discussion about the future architecture of Australian tertiary education and the funding mechanisms that would encourage genuine diversity to flourish, write Richard James and Leo Goedegebuure.
After two lost years the sector desperately needs funding reforms. But how can the debate be placed on a new footing? We believe the answer lies in returning to first principles: what kinds of institutions, and what mix of institutions, would best serve Australia?
Our thinking is simple: let’s develop a farsighted vision for the character of the tertiary education sector as the precursor to developing a restyled funding, performance measurement and regulatory framework. This may be an ambitious idea but the logic behind it is compelling.
The Turnbull government’s decision not to pursue Christopher Pyne’s deregulation package is very welcome. There is a risk, however, that any hastily revamped student fees package will fall into the same ruts that beset Pyne.
One reason for the failure of the Pyne package is that the debate largely put the cart before the horse. Somewhat bizarrely, the funding reform was launched without any discussion of the structure of the higher — let alone tertiary — education system.
We believe lip-service has been paid to diversity in higher education. The reality is that a one-size-fits-all funding and regulatory system has made all universities tread roughly similar paths. Given that universities had different starting positions, this logically implies that we see some diversity in institutional trajectories. But this is curtailed by a policy straitjacket. As a simple example we need look no further than the Melbourne Model. This is surely a desirable example of diversification yet it has required the University of Melbourne to be treated as an exception within the national policy framework. This is hardly the flexibility needed to future-proof Australian society.
We know that the 21st century is about continuous and increasingly rapid change and complexity. We also know that our economy primarily is a services economy. This squarely places us into the knowledge economy, requiring a highly skilled and developed workforce that is adaptable, creative and able to operate across disciplines, work in teams, be (inter)nationally engaged, and trained for jobs that do not yet exist. To achieve this, Australia needs universal tertiary education participation driven by a carefully differentiated tertiary sector.
Because our innovation ecosystem is diverse and our future challenges complex, the tertiary system should have the diversity to match, following Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. This poses serious design issues, but nevertheless is our only way forward.
Consider the University of Tasmania as an example of an institution with a distinctive mission and particular challenges and opportunities. It must use research and innovation to help build new industries for the island. It must also work with educationally disadvantaged communities to help raise the socioeconomic profile and lift school completion and tertiary participation rates. It must work with local industries to lift productivity. And it must install the genes of innovation and entrepreneurship in its students. These complex challenges require a complex set of actions at a variety of levels, ranging from the lower certificates to the (professional) doctorate and across the full research spectrum from blue skies to seriously applied.
Perhaps in a single university and TAFE state system these challenges can be met by single institutions with multiple missions, but it is very easy to see how very different sets of activities and focuses are needed, how these are to be linked with key stakeholders, and how distinctly different incentive schemes need to be built to drive behaviour. It is almost impossible to orchestrate this from a single vantage point with a single framework.
Australia as a nation faces a similar problem, but on an even greater scale. We do not suggest for a moment that the creation of a differentiated sector and complementary funding model will be an intellectually or politically simple task. Clearly it won’t be, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to remain a prosperous and socially cohesive society. This means that the assumptions that are the legacy of John Dawkins’s unified national system have to be confronted.
More explicit institutional differentiation is an unwelcome prospect for many people, for it raises the spectres of vertical stratification, funding inequalities and social polarisation. These are legitimate concerns to be taken into account in the system design process. But these should not be the bottlenecks that deter us from the challenge of building a truly diverse system.
Is there the imagination and courage for such a truly creative feat of policy-shaping? A tough gig for a young minister in Simon Birmingham, perhaps, but equally the kind of challenge a reforming politician ought to be willing to embrace. The frightening alternative for Birmingham is fruitless sifting through the embers of the Pyne package in the hope that something can be recovered.
Richard James is director of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education and Leo Goedegebuure is director of the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne.
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.
In response to commentary deprecating The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne, Conor King, the Executive Director of the Innovative Research Universities Group, provides his perspective on the valuable insight which the Survey presents.
The commentary on The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne has been sidetracked by one plausible statistic, neglecting the full import of the Survey.
The Survey confirms the earning value from higher levels of education, particularly for women. It shows that, for women, having a higher education degree is important for the likelihood of employment. That is not so for men who tend to be employed but with lower earnings if not a graduate.
Those outcomes are not necessarily new but since they based on a cohort covering multiple generations they underpin the value from expanding the take up of higher education, a core mission of IRU members.
The new aspect coming from the survey is the hint that school results let alone intelligence are not long term strongly correlated with income. Rather it is the fact of education.
The report’s tables of graduate earnings include two versions adjusted and not adjusted for cognitive ability (based on tests which HILDA administers to its participants). The interesting point is that the results do not alter much when adjusted for those tests. My reading is that the report supports arguments that end of school capability does not carry through to later year outcomes, at least if measured by income. This is a further blow to the use of the ATAR as a valid sorting mechanism for excluding applicants when places in a course have been limited.
In short while some like to argue it is not where you study but what you study, the Survey shows that what matters is that you do study. It is further confirmation of the drive since WWII to expand take up of higher education, in particular the sense of the Dawkins reforms whose graduates make up much of the HILDA cohort. It is too early to test whether the expansion since 2009 through demand driven funding will show the same outcome but nothing in the results suggests the contrary.
Everyone, or just enough people to fill skilled jobs?
We have more people going to university in Australia than ever before. In 1971 only 2% of the population over 15 years old held a Bachelor’s degree, in 2013 it was 25%. Last year a whopping 1,149,300 people were enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree or above. However, graduate employment rates are falling. This leads many to ask whether too many people are going to university. Should everyone go to university or just the correct number to be able to fill highly skilled jobs in Australia? asks Leo Goedegebuure (University of Melbourne), writing in The Conversation.
More education, the more benefits for all
Philosophically, I am all in favour of providing a university experience to as many students as possible. The positive external effects of a highly educated population include reduced crime rates and better health outcomes with associated lower public costs. Equally, it leads to stronger societies and communities, stronger democracies and, although slowly, it helps in reducing socio-economic inequalities.
And we should not forget the formative impact that “going to college” has on individuals, ranging from personal growth to greater job satisfaction once graduated.
While universal higher education is a positive goal in many aspects, not everyone will have the ability necessary to complete a degree. A recent report to the US Senate provided a painful reminder that universal tertiary education is not only about enrolling students, but equally about making sure they graduate and that subsequently they are in a position to repay their loans. Repayment, as the data shows, goes hand in hand with completion and finding a job.
Ensuring their students can complete the degrees they are enrolled in is universities’ first responsibility.
While some may look at graduate employment rates and contend we have an oversupply of graduates, I fundamentally disagree. Not only is the middle- and long-term outlook for university graduates still pretty good, in a knowledge-based economy there is no limit on the level of educational attainment. The higher and the better educated a country, the more competitive it becomes.
A well-educated workforce doesn’t mean narrowly trained graduates in highly specialised and professional positions. Sure, we do need those – as anyone undergoing surgery or spending some time in a dentist chair will attest. But for an innovative society that is strongly service-based we need well-educated graduates who are the motor for process and product innovation.
This, in turn, means “T-shaped” graduateswho possess in-depth disciplinary knowledge (the vertical bar of the T) but who also combine this with skills and abilities not specific to just one area (the horizontal top bar of the T).
These well-educated people can work in teams and have a capacity for deep listening. They can communicate and are instilled with an entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to create new jobs rather than venturing out to a pre-populated labour market.
This then is the second responsibility that is bestowed on universities. It is not only about completion but completing with the right set of skills and abilities.
This is not to say that nothing is happening. Far from it.
To take some random examples, over the last four years the University of Technology, Sydney almost doubled its enrolments in first-year chemistry from 650 to over 1,000, accompanied by significantly improved pass rates and reduced attrition. Innovation and design labs exploring design thinking are popping up across the country.
But, as a sector, many of our approaches to teaching and learning are still traditional and many are antiquated.
This needs to change if we truly see university education as part of the engine room of a competitive, innovative society in the most dynamic socio-economic region of the world. This is not only about resourcing, it also is about “having skin in the game” as the US Senate report so aptly frames it.
The Conversation is running a series on “What are universities for?” looking at the place of universities in Australia, why they exist, who they serve, and how this is changing over time. Read other articles in the series here.
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 figures 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 ]….
15May 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 ]….
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 ]…..
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 Innovation, 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 ]……
10 May 2015 | Education minister Christopher Pyne has vowed to find another university to host 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 ]….
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 ]…. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Despite 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.
The 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.
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.”
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.
If 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.
Lomborg’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.
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Monash University’s commemoration of the Great War.
25 April 2015
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.
16 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 ]…..
16 April 2015 | A report released by Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist – The importance of advanced 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 ]…..
16 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 ]…..
16 April 2015 | Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) breaching standards could be issued with 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 ]…..
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 ]…..
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.
Professor 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.
A 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: email@example.com .
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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. .
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.
12 February 2015 | Labor, the Greens and four independent senators (Senators Xenophon, Lambie, 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 ]…..
12 February 2015 | With the Labor Party poised to form a minority government in Queensland, its 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.
10 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 ]…..
10 February 2015 | Deakin University, with its large presence in regional Victoria, has announced 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 ]…..
Vice-chancellor of the Australian National University and current chair of the Group of Eight universities, 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.
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.
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.
With 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.
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.
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.
A 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)
Over 69,000 applicants have received an offer, through the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC), for a place at a Victorian university, some private higher education colleges and for some courses at TAFE institutes. .University offers totalled about 57,000 out of about 68,000 applications, meaning a “success rate” of 84%, compared to 85% in 2014 but way ahead of the 75% rate in 2009, the year that places began to be uncapped. The average Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for entry declined slightly, from 69.3 in 2014 to 68.1 in 2015.
The data need to be interpreted with a little circumspection: it’s very hard to compare this year with past years and seek to extrapolate any future trend. We’re seeing quite significant changes in patterns and practices of application and selection. For example, an ATAR is now not relevant to 50% of university applications; it’s really now only relevant in respect of current Year 12 applicants.
In addition an increasing proportion of both applications and offers now occur outside the VTAC framework and the traditional January “main round” of offers. This year VTAC conducted a pilot of direct applications, allowing someone to apply directly to an institution for a single approved course, rather than through VTAC. In fact, VTAC actually accounts for somewhat less than 50% of offers these days.
So, on the face of it, there has been a marked decline, for example in “non year” (that is, mature age) applicants of 9% (and one assumes offers). Regional applications are down 10%. It might be surmised that this reflects concerns about prospective fee increases and “$100,000 degrees”. It may well be in part , but more likely changes in application and offer processes are a bigger part of the explanation.
That average ATARs have declined (down to 68.1 from 68.1 in 2014) will excite chatter about “declining standards”. There’s a wealth of commentary on this – check out The Scan archive – but basically, why is that any sort of a surprise? The whole point of the reforms arising out of the Bradley Review process were to:
increase higher education attainment in the general population
increase higher participation by poorly represented population groups (low SES, regional, indigenous).
To the extent that you achieve one goal, all things being equal (for example, #2 isn’t achieved at the expense of some group) you also achieve the other. And the overall effect must be that, “on average”, a lower ATAR than had hitherto been necessary (or no ATAR at all) will get some more applicants into a university course than had previously been the case (though not into any university course at any university).
The Abbott government has expressly abandoned the former government’s participation and attainment targets and its proposed “deregulation” package remains (for the time being, at least) blocked in the Senate.
So we won’t really know the deep meaning of this year’s “main round” until the Commonwealth department publishes its “applications, offers and acceptances” report some time later this year.
And heaven knows what this portends for next year or those following. It depends very much on what finally emerges from the Senate.
Key facts and figures
The following information relates to VTAC applicants for undergraduate courses offered in 2014 by Victorian universities, TAFE institutes and private colleges.
Figures in brackets show changes from last year.
• Total applicants: 76,648 (-2.2%)
• Domestic applicants: 74,358 (-2.2%)
– Year 12 applicants: 48,405 (+ 1.9%)
– Non Year applicants: 25,953 (-9%)
• International (Year 12 applicants): 2,290 (-1.5%)
• 69,337 total offers issued to date (-3.1%) comprising:
– 57,943 main round domestic offers issued (-1.1%)
– 9,624 early round domestic offers issued (-13.8%)
– 1,770 international Year 12 offers issued (-3.1%)
• 64,643 individual domestic applicants with at least one offer to date (-2.4%)
The following information relates to domestic applications and offers.
University applications and offers
(Domestic applications and offers only)
67,914 first preference applicants (-1.6%)
• Total offers issued to date: 56,945 (-3.0%)
– 48,559 main round offers (-0.9%)
– 8,386 early round offers (-13.4%)
• 54,510 applicants with a university offer to date (-2.3%)
TAFE applications and offers
• 5,340 first preference applicants (-6.2%)
• Total offers issued to date: 8,461 (-4.4%)
– 7,450 main round offers (-2.9%)
– 1,011 early round offers (-13.9%)
• 8,401 applicants with a TAFE offer to date (-3.9%)
Private college applications and offers
• 1,245 first preference applicants (-3.3%)
• Total offers issued to date: 2,161 (-1.3%)
– 1,934 main round offers (+2.2%)
– 227 early round offers (-23.6%)
• 2,156 applicants with a private college offer to date (-0.8%) Graduate entry teaching (GET) courses
• 3,754 applications (-14.2%)
• 3,142 offers (-16.8%)
Stephen Parker, vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, has been a loud, lone dissenting voice among the vice-chancellors over the government’s higher education deregulation package, strenuously opposing from the start, describing it as “a potentially calamitous package” for students and the country. He’s been particularly critical of the qualified support offered by Universities Australia, which he depicts as “an organisation with necrotizing fasciitis – the condition where the body eats its own flesh”. And he says the peak organisation is doomed, having lost its “moral compass” and that he won’t be attending further meetings. Parker expanded on the theme in a speech delivered to the National Alliance for Public Universities on 1 December.
Had someone told me last summer that I would be defending public universities on the first day of next summer I would have ridiculed the idea.
Somehow I believed what the Coalition wrote in early 2013: that there would be no change to university funding arrangements. Somehow I believed what Tony Abbott said to the Universities Australia conference in March 2013: that we could expect a period of benign neglect from an Abbott government. And somehow I believed what Abbott said two days before the election in September 2013: that there would be no cuts to education.
It is the last of these canards that is so shocking. Abbott knew he was going to win, so he didn’t even need to promise it to gain votes.
But here we are and here I am.
A further surprise has been to find myself the only Vice-Chancellor to say publicly what at least a few actually believe. I have tried to understand other Vice-Chancellors’ perspectives. I’ve worked at Group of Eight and more modern universities. I was the Senior DVC at Monash. I know the pressures, but nothing justifies the position that they and Universities Australia have taken.
These reforms are unfair to students and poorly designed policy. If they go through, Australia is sleepwalking towards the privatisation of its universities. And ironically they will be the death knell of our peak group, Universities Australia, which could not survive them for long.
Unfair to students
These reforms are unfair to students – the constituency to which I have devoted 35 years of my working life. They have to lead to significant increases in student debt because this is part of the government’s case for them.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne says the reforms are a way to bring fresh funding into universities, so he must assume that we will go further than just replace government cuts with higher tuition fees.
Australian students already pay a higher proportion of their tuition than those in most OECD countries. This will blight the lives of a generation, unless Australia comes to its senses. Mission Australia released its Youth Survey showing that most teenagers rank career success as their top aspiration, but only around half feel the goal is attainable. It will become a whole lot harder under these changes.
And the impact on women and certain professions will be worse, as Ben Phillips and I have demonstrated in articles in The Conversationwhen we modelled the likely HECS debts of female scientists, nurses and teachers based on typical career trajectories.
Poor policy design
These reforms are poorly designed policy. Where do I start?
They emerged as a budget measure, but they won’t save the taxpayer money in any real sense. A fundamental feature of HECS is that the government forwards all the money upfront to the university. So if fees go up by more than the cuts, the Commonwealth shells out more from day one.
Default will rise. More students will work overseas – legitimately, this is not evasion – and so only through some arcane aspect of accounting standards can this even look as if it is a savings measure.
This isn’t a savings measure: it is ideology in search of a problem.
But it gets worse. Bizarrely, there is no guarantee that a single cent of the extra money will go into the student’s course: it could go into research, infrastructure, paying for past follies or current cock-ups. It’s tempting, believe me, I make them too, but it’s wrong.
The internal equity aspect of the policy design is laughable. Why should the second poorest quartile of students subsidise the lowest quartile?
So I ask myself: which policy amateur came up with the scheme in the first place?
Sleep-walking towards privatisation
In June, I wrote in The Conversation about the slide towards privatisation. I compared universities with public utilities where the then managements were initially encouraged to be “commercial” and “competitive”. Then they were actually pitted against private providers. Then the utilities were privatised themselves, and required a complete focus on private profit.
The privatisation that we are sleep-walking towards may or may not involve shareholders and the stock market – but it will involve the removal of the public voice.
I can hear the argument in my head already. Some Vice-Chancellor, perhaps one who has championed competition reforms in an earlier life or been the CEO of a large public company, will say:
Now that universities compete for places and on price, and they compete with private providers, including multi-nationals, we need a level playing field.
We have one hand tied behind our backs. We need to be set free, so let’s get auditor-generals out of the place, let’s stop state governments appointing our Senates and Councils, and let’s get staff and students off them while we are at it.
And so on. It will all have a compelling logic because of the corner we have boxed ourselves into.
Death knell of Universities Australia
These reforms also ring the death knell of our peak body – Universities Australia. The support that Universities Australia is giving them is a strange form of suicide ritual.
Older universities, which have benefited from decades of public money, built a brand at taxpayer expense and who now want to run away with it, will raise their fees more. The stratification of institutions will intensify. Competition and dog-eat-dog will be the order of the day. And when they have milked the peak group for what they can get out of it the elites will dance away in a figure eight formation.
We have just seen a week of bizarre national adverts from Universities Australia – presumably aimed at six crossbench senators – full of Orwellian doublespeak that the reforms are fair to students.
Whether it breaks up soon because the tensions are too great, or it survives until the interest group factions have no more use for it and spit it out, Universities Australia is doomed because it has lost its moral compass.
I personally will not attend a further meeting of an organisation with necrotizing fasciitis: the condition where the body eats its own flesh.
A wake-up call
So wake up Australia if you want to preserve your children’s life chances.
Wake up academia – especially those of you who write about public policy but have been strangely silent on this issue.
Wake up senators – you know not what you are playing with – you are aiding and abetting a fraud on the electorate.
Maintain the fight everyone. If the government won’t take the honourable course of acknowledging these reforms are a gross violation of pre-election promises and put them before the electorate, then we must make sure that they lose that election because of them. And I believe they will, as the Victorian state election on Saturday indicated.
Stand up everyone for public universities, reject the reforms, join us at the table for a sensible conversation, without a gun at our heads, about how to make Australian public higher education great.
Almost 83,000 Victorian students have received their Year 12 results, 47,000 of whom also received an ATAR.
This year, 49,204 students – 26,259 female students and 22,945 male students – have graduated with their Victorian Certificate of Education and 47,032 secondary school students have received an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. 14,728 students received a study score of 40 or more in at least one subject.
Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre director Catherine Wills noted that the average ATAR for girls was 64.4 and for boys it was 62.2. However, at the highest level, 22 boys received the top ATAR of 99.95, compared with 11 girls.
The VCE completion rate in 2014 was at an all-time high of 97.7%,
In addition, 12,926 students completed a VCAL certificate in 2014, the most since the introduction of the program 12 years ago.
The relevance of ATAR as a university selection tool has been declining in relevance, particularly since the phased introduction of the uncapped, demand driven system since 2010.
For almost half of all Victorian degree courses in 2014, the ATAR was just one factor among many – or no factor at all – in the selection process.
Of the 1113 courses offered this year, 495 did not have a “clearly in” ATAR requirement by the end of final round offers. They, instead, based selection on a battery of tests, folios, letters, performances and interviews, either in conjunction with (or entirely ignoring) the ATAR.
Dr Daniel Edwards, a principal research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, said close to 50% of students are now admitted to university each year without relying solely on year 12 results. He estimates the figure would have been closer to 30% a decade ago.
Institutions are increasingly thinking about alternative ways of selecting their cohorts. It’s certainly much more likely that people are getting in based on criteria other than ATAR.