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61 responses to “Pay attention to the review this time…”

  1. Thomas Paine

    “Here’s hoping that the government actually responds in proportion this time, not with a half-arsed political fix like with the CPRS”

    OK so this is the new default position. Govt didn’t do what I wanted it to so from now on I am going to really sulk and adopt the position Govt -Boo! Didn’t take long, one year. Fair weather friends.

  2. klaus k

    I don’t know where to start on that first comment. Oh, yes I do: it’s off topic. The post is about the Bradley review: can we please get a few dozen comments on that before the thread gets derailed into the usual stupidities?

    There are obviously risks associated with changing the funding models, but I’ve got to second your optimism here Robert. A cursory examination suggests the review gives a fair account of what is going on in the sector. This is a good place to start.

  3. Robert Merkel

    Thomas Paine: if you want uncritical support for the Rudd government, might I suggest this site.

  4. steph R

    The review ended up being a lot better than I thought it would be. The voucher system is a good start but universities still aren’t given enough freedom to set their own goals (funding and output wise). Best analysis I’ve read is over at the East Asia Forum with Philippa Dee’s (ANU economist) analysis.

  5. Laura

    Regarding the voucher system proposal, I wonder what people think of the idea that students will be better able to go to the uni of their choice, given that (as Greg Craven pointed out) students are seldom in a position to be able to assess the merit of a particular course or department.

    The trend is for universities to present themselves as brands and I guess that would increase with a voucher system. But brands are streamlined and coherent in a way that universities definitely are not. How will students know which institution to choose?

  6. billie

    I think I agree with Greg Craven that smaller, less prestigious universities would be vulnerable, so bye bye Ballarat, perhaps bye bye Swinburne.

    We have seen the way ABC Learning manipulated the voucher system to build its empire, possibly would have worked if Therese Rein had been at the helm rather than Eddy Groves – operational with over supply in some areas.

    Can you imagine a voucher system that enables every student who wants to study medicine getting a place? Hmmm medical training is expensive so I imagine government largesse might dry up.

  7. Laura

    That’s the kind of thing I wonder about, too – the lack of fit between the reasonably worthy idea of freedom of choice and the economy’s need for / capacity to absorb particular numbers of graduates. And if funding follows the student, and places are created to match demand, how do institutions set entrance requirements? Very differently from how it’s done now.

    I assume this stuff is explained in the report but I’ve not got that far.

  8. BilB

    I prefer that funding emphasis to the Howard/Friedman tradeable squeezeable coupon model. This will lead to institutions deciding what they do well and marketing their strengths even more agressively than they do now. In that framework sandstone is just a pleasant backdrop. The real show is what one can learn that feeds talent and passion.

  9. Laura

    The emphasis on increasing participation among disadvantaged groups is really good, very encouraging.

  10. Mark

    Yep, there are good things in the review. I’m very happy that it’s putting a teaching/student focus at the centre of things, rather than just being another messy compromise between all the different structural gimmes of the various groupings of unis. Full cost funding for research and a 10% increase in funding for teaching are undoubtedly very good things, and there are synergies between them.

    I haven’t looked carefully at how the voucher thing will actually operate, so I’m reserving judgement on that.

  11. Grumphy

    Billie at 6, unless I’m very much mistaken, a voucher system doesn’t imply an absence of course cutoffs (OP-wise).

    Count me in as one of the people worried about what will happen to the… if not less popular, then less well-marketed courses. I’m unsure what will happen to enrolments in courses that are already experiencing a lack of numbers (particularly technical courses).

    I’m one of those people who thinks that Unis ought to respond to shortages of professionals in particular industries by beefing up the relevant courses and marketing them heavily – gluts of ‘fashionable’ degrees aren’t really good for anyone involved. Unis don’t do this particularly well right now, but they’re going to have to expend a lot more effort when funds are following students. Heavily technical courses in particular need a lot more investment in fancy gadgets and expensive texts per capita for good teaching, and if too few students enrol, the money won’t be there to give them the training they need. All it would take is a few years of low enrolment for the extinction spiral to kick in.

    If unis had some freedom to redirect surplus funds from other courses, though, this might not be such a problem. Maybe. Whatever happens, I just don’t want to see the current system persist, wherein my undergrad ecology lecturers had to pull all sorts of tricky financial shenanigans to fund field trips. The most common practice was enticing full-fee payers in with promises of the subject being a Fun Elective in order to subsidise the rest of us…

  12. Lefty E

    The key problem with “demand-driven” approaches to higher ed (aside from the fact that its essentially a content-free mangerial cliche) is this: students will ‘demand’ easier courses, that are shorter, less thorough, and less taxing.

    What’s remotely appealing about that?

    OTOH nice to see some acknowedlgement of the demographic problems. Once boomers retire, I’m going end up Dean – just through sheer lack of competition! Ive been lucky, but so many Gen Xers like me got burnt off academia through lack of regular employment oppourtunities. And the Gen Ys are all on sessional contracts, not being paid Dec-jan – and frankly, many of them are no longer spring chickens either, they’ll leave too. What then?

  13. Mark

    Grumphy @11 – Was it a Fun Elective? 🙂

    One of the potentially distorting things about student choice driven models is an over-emphasis on subjects or courses that appear marketable. I’ve taught two that had higher enrolments than one would normally imagine – Virgins, Saints and Sinners and Youth and Deviance in Australia (the latter particularly popular with American exchange students perhaps looking for tips). Both were actually good subjects – but there’s no doubt a bit of titling creativity helped their appeal. There is a danger of distorting the curriculum here – and it’s compounded by abolishing prerequisites to mop up more student bodies doing electives. Of course, all these things are obviously products of current methods of allocating funding. And as I said, I’m yet to give the proposed student driven funding model a close look.

  14. Fmark

    Mark @13

    My favourite example of attempting to make a course marketable comes from an art theory course for visual arts students at ANU: Cool Old Masters.

  15. Lefty E

    Well, I’m rebadging my courses, and keeping it highly real with deamnd-driven yoof-friendly teaching and assessment techniques: incl. Group SMS lecturing, and Facebook Tutorials.

    “Yo! Wlcme 2 Intro2Politics. Im like, yr lecturer ‘n shit.”

  16. Chris (a different one)

    The key problem with “demand-driven” approaches to higher ed (aside from the fact that its essentially a content-free mangerial cliche) is this: students will ‘demand’ easier courses, that are shorter, less thorough, and less taxing.

    LeftyE – are you sure about that? Having now seen some of the course content for computer science at MIT (a lot of it is open these days) I would have much preferred to have a course like that which was a lot more challenging than what I had even if it would have meant I would have had to work a lot harder. Courses which may be challenging but lead to better graduates will gain a good reputation over time – you can see evidence of that even now.

  17. Ewen MacTeagle

    Im sure it is excellent Chris, but how was it “demand-driven”, exactly?

  18. klaus k

    “The key problem with “demand-driven” approaches to higher ed (aside from the fact that its essentially a content-free mangerial cliche) is this: students will ‘demand’ easier courses, that are shorter, less thorough, and less taxing.”

    I don’t believe this is necessarily the case, or rather I think this is only what students want under certain sets of conditions, some of which dominate the contemporary Australian tertiary environment.

    I think most students want, at some level, a rewarding and worthwhile experience, which means thoroughness and real understanding, and are willing to work for that. But they will settle for ticking boxes when things become too difficult on any of a range of fronts, only some of which are within the control of universities and their staff.

    For example, we can go some way as teachers to making thorough and taxing units of study more accessible by taking on board the lessons coming out of higher education research. But I’m more concerned about the problem of material support for students: students who are worried about money, or about work, housing, even food are quickly going to arrive at the ‘tick the box’ attitude no matter how good the teaching is. If those conditions remain in place then the demand-driven approach will risk becoming a race to the bottom.

  19. Alastair

    The report looks interesting and I agree that there appear to be many positive recommendations in it. I’m a bit sceptical of the proposed voucher system. I like the idea of more student choice, however, I fear it may lead to undesirable outcomes such as the closure of smaller regional universities and the loss of highly beneficial but less popular courses.

    Lefty E @15, That’s hilarious! Gave me a good laugh.

  20. Chris (a different one)

    Ewen @ 17 – I think that if MIT watered down their courses they would find that less people would want to attend, and in the long term they would find it much harder to get funding. I think contrary to LeftyE’s assertion there is demand for challenging courses (and for easy courses too I’m sure).

  21. Razor

    I am unsuprised by the fear Academia has for being exposed to market forces. Their inherent selfishness means that Australia as a whole is short changed by not allowing for a system that would deliver what the market (i.e. the paying students) want rather than what suits the Academics.

    The comment above that says students wouldn’t know how to pick the best courses is typical of the misinformation used to protect the comfy bastions of academia. Students don’t make those decisions by themselves or in a vacum. Somehow in the uS they know what the Ivy League is, same in the Uk for Oxbridge and here for the Sandstones. As for the concern of Craven – well that is blatant self interest. if he was ina a sandstone I bet his view would be different.

    Vouchers should apply at all levels of education – cradle to grave. Let Australians decide, not academics who are self-interested.

  22. Ewen MacTeagle

    I quite agree quality courses will attract students, Chris! What Im getting at is WTF does “demand-driven” actually mean in this context, and wtf does it have to do with quality of curriculum?

    Nothing, Id suggest. Its just managerial mouthwash being gargled.

  23. Ewen MacTeagle

    Students already get to choose what course they take, Razor. Sometimes they have to qualify merit-wise in relation to their peers – but otherwise their choices are unfettered by we evil academics.

    However, we DO design the courses they get to choose from. Thats because we know more about it than they do. Works that way in ‘education’ generally.

    All a bit of a non-issue I’d suggest.

  24. Grumphy

    Students *try* not to make those decisions in a vaccuum, Razor, but its not always terribly easy once you get past ‘which institution’. My choice to attend QUT has heavily influenced by the fact that I could access full individual subject summaries, proper biographies/work histories of the people teaching them, etc. Other universities in QLD provided only a bare fraction of that information (two lines of text ain’t enough, UQ), and the resulting lack of certainty about what I’d be learning made them much less attractive.

    Unfortunately, much of the info I was able to access even then wasn’t actually intended for public consumption; QUT just hadn’t isolated their internal networks from the wider net very well. Within a year or two of enrolling, the stuff I’d been able to grab was no longer accessible unless one was already enrolled – and even then enrolled, one often couldn’t look at the content of courses in other faculties. Hardly the fault of ‘evil academia’, but definitely the fault of the unfriendly types on the business side of running a uni. Marketing a course means providing detail!

    btw, judging by the way young academics in my faculty were treated, I’d hardly call academia a ‘comfy bastion’ D: and paying students aren’t really the market for unis, they’re the product. Their prospective employers are the market, and a chunk of those are academics themselves. I’m having some trouble unpacking the rather strange assumptions behind your comment, so I think I’ll just lay off for now.

    @mark; if you like camping, indeed they were 😛

  25. Razor

    Ewen, students do get to choose the courses that they do, but the courses that are made available are artificially restricted because of the funding model. I for one would have liked to have done Medicine. Unfortunately I wasn’t hard working (and maybe smart) enough, and the limited places meant that I didn’t make the cutoff. And now twenty plus years later there are major shortages of Doctors and we rely on imports to meet demand.

    I didn’t say students should design the course.

  26. Chris (a different one)

    Ewen @ 22 – Aren’t they just saying that the voucher system will lead to courses with curriculum that don’t deliver what students want will tend to disappear as its more likely students will be able to go to uni A instead of uni B as the funding will follow them.

    I guess it depends on whether you think the cut-offs marks for many courses at unis are representative of what you need to know to do the course versus they being a result of quotas based on funding to specific universities.

  27. Lefty E

    Trust me guys, ‘courses without students’ already disappear. As do units within courses with low enrolments. We live under a tyranny of managers who spend literally all their time doing these sort of calculations and cutting “costs” whereever they can. The idea that acas are some sort of protected species is grimly hilarious to those in the business.

    We’re already “corporatised” in that sense, if you like. How vouchers will make a difference is beyond me, as students only come if they want to as is.

    As for doctor shortages – blame the professional association, the AMA. They like to keep graduate numbers low, earnings high. And they, not unis, run postgrad admissions for specialisation in their colleges.

  28. patrickg

    Lefty E, I just have to congratulate you on a beautiful Python reference there. Apologies if it’s actually your real name, ha ha.

    I find this all very interesting, as someone contemplating going back to uni as a potential vocation, the private sector not being quite my cup of tea. As pointed out though, I’m getting old(er), and the sessional life will certainly put our plans for kids/home on hold if I can’t get something decent after 5 years or so…

  29. Chris (a different one)

    Trust me guys, ‘courses without students’ already disappear. As do units within courses with low enrolments. We live under a tyranny of managers who spend literally all their time doing these sort of calculations and cutting “costs” whereever they can.

    But with the current system you don’t necessarily end up with courses without students. For example someone wants to do computer science at university A. They don’t get a high enough score and so end up doing computer science at university B even though they believe the course there is not as good. If there is high enough demand for doing computer science you’ll still get both courses full even if the course at A is much better than the course at B. In this case wouldn’t it be better for funding to be directed from University B to A if thats what the students and University A wanted?

  30. Lefty E

    Oh, and here’s the rub: if you think a voucher system will offer endlessly expanding course enrolment numbers at your fave course in a prestigious institution, think again.

    ‘Prestige’ tends to come in inverse proportion to gross number of graduates. So in the really top courses, you can gurantee enrolment numbers will still be restricted, but this time through price mechanisms rather than merit based criteria.

    And I dont support that.

  31. Razor

    LEfty E – I am happy to acknowledge that Medicine is a poor example due to the buggers muddle of Unis, AMA, State and Federal Health systems that all work in conjunction to limit training places.

  32. Andrew Norton

    “The key problem with “demand-driven” approaches to higher ed (aside from the fact that its essentially a content-free mangerial cliche) is this: students will ‘demand’ easier courses, that are shorter, less thorough, and less taxing.”

    All these claims have been made of the current system, which is highly regulated on volume. Easy courses are as much in the interests of academics who would rather be researching, and indeed more so: they don’t suffer the long-term consequences of students getting an inadequate education.

    The main issue on academic standards is not vouchers vs central control, but third-party checks and balances. The Bradley report is relatively good on this issue, proposing far more external quality control. It doesn’t necessarily need to be done by government, but it does need to be carried out by an institution with the conflict of interest all universities have.

    We never hear of demand-reliant private schools ‘dumbing down’ to attract more students; indeed they are generally regarded as doing the opposite. Though this is what parents probably want anyway, external testing in the final years of school provides a strong further disencentive to dumbing down.

  33. Tyro Rex

    I know for a fact that at least two schools in a QLD Sandstone don’t give a flying fuck about teaching and all measurement of their academics is done entirely on the basis of research output. Academically the lecturers are focussed on the 5 or 10% of students who get consistent distinctions and better into honours, and then into M.Phils and PhDs because the funding per student is better, and the outcome more worthwhile. What about the plight of the junior academics who are on an endless succession of contracts often at the some insto, for years at a time, without access to research opportunities or even promotions? And the gender imbalance in that an awful lot of “coordinators” of things are usually the female academics who get burdened with the administrative stuff of academia, which gets in the way of advancing their research output?

  34. Lefty E

    Agree on external quality control, Andrew. For starters, that would sack the most useless of the uni managerial class in one fell swoop. Im sure the advantages dont stop there, but that’ll do me.

    And here’s another thing: when I taught in the 90s there was a census method of giving me student feedback on my performance. I liked it, I welcomed it. An independent (but uni located) body came in and did it in the lectures, and tutes.

    Now’s its optional, opt-in and online – you only get the cranks and the sucks doing it. Its useless, unreliable feedback as a result.

  35. Labor Outsider

    I’d like to get people’s views on the targets recommended in the report. It calls for 40% of 25 to 34 year olds to have a bachelor level qualification by 2020 and raise the proportion of undergraduate enrolments of those from low socio-economic backgrounds to 20% by 2020.

    I think the targets have a very good chance of being adopted. KR loves targets and benchmarks, thinks that there has been a major public underinvestment in human capital, and knows the politics will work well.

    As for whether those targets make sense, I have a few concerns. First, I think governments should choose targets (if they have to have them at all) on the basis of what they think the future demand for a particular set of skills is likely to be, not on the basis of where it will place us in international rankings.

    Second, targets tend to emphasise quantity over quality. Now, of course they aren’t mutually exclusive, and the report does stress the importance of raising the quality of higher education, but I worry that politicians will become so obsessed with reaching their target, that they might ultimatly sacrifice quality to achieve it. This is especially the case when improving quality is harder to achieve and hard to assess.

    Third, although the higher education system is separate from our primary and secondary schooling systems, university students have to go through the earlier schooling system. That is an obvious point, but it is important, because when you set targets, at the same time you have to ask whether the schooling system is working well enough to meet the target without forcing overall standards (which from my experience at Sandstone in the 1990s was already pretty low) even lower.

    I do like the principle of funding following students rather than institutions, and also like the idea of research funding being pooled amongst a smaller number of high quality institutions (though these shouldn’t be presumed to be the sandstones).

    I will be very intersted to see how the government takes up the challenge of improving the structure of funding. Just from seeing the comments on this thread, it is obvious that whatever the government does, there will be contention – which will involve spending political capital – which hasn’t been the government’s strong suit to date.

    My hunch is that KR will be willing to go a lot further in this area because it means more to him.

    Anyway, would be interested in getting all of your thoughts on some of the issues I have raised. I didn’t do my post-grad in Australia, so most of you will have a lot more experience within the system to draw on than I do…

  36. Darryl Rosin

    Where do you mark the Managerial Class starting Lefty? I’m thinking Lecturer C, D & E and HEW 10 and over.


  37. Andrew Norton

    The intellectual basis of the targets is poor, seemingly based on copying other countries (a constant weakness in the report is their desire to imitate other countries without looking into the substantive issues involved). For example, while they commissioned Access Economics to do some labour market forecasting which concluded that we needed more graduates, the 40% is not obviously drawn from that work. Labour market forecasting has a bad record, but at least using this Access research to derive a target would have given it some empirical basis.

    I’d guess the problem of meeting the target will be solved via the proposal for better integration with vocational education. By including diplomas that are both higher education and vocational qualifications we are already at about 35% of the workforce with ‘tertiary’ qualifications. Some of the OECD countries with which the Bradley report compares Australia have high numbers for effectively this reason – their qualifications systems don’t permit easy distinctions between ‘low’ higher education and ‘high’ vocational education.

  38. Lefty E

    I’ll grant you HEW 10 straight off the bat, Darryl, with the others you’d have to look individually at what they’re doing before instituting the brutal, ruthless cull you’re no doubt planning there. (…with my full approval 🙂 ).

    eg, Some level Es do absolutely no “management” at all: let alone of the offensive, pointless, redundant, gate-keeping, form-writing, and time-wasting variety I object to.

    In short, I greatly admire your enthusiasm but would urge a selective approach upon you.

    If you DO spot any whose sole performance objective appears to be to sack sufficient academic staff every year to cover their own ridiculous wage with ‘savings’, and maybe then some (for the uni) – and such people do exist – straight in the bin!!

  39. C.L.

    …with large numbers of baby-boomer academics heading for retirement soon…


  40. Sam Clifford

    I’m not sold on the voucher system yet and am worried it will be used by stealth to erode the public education system in years to come. There’s nothing backing that up beyond the American libertarian angle, so I’m open to evidence that I’ve nothing to worry about.

    I think having funding following students is an absolute no-brainer and has been due for years.

    Increasing access to student support will go a long way to helping students achieve high marks at uni. Having to work to live makes it hard to find time to do a good job on assignments, let alone do out of class study of material.

    I hold out hope that the Bradley Review leads to long term, positive changes to the tertiary education system which sees the tertiary sector provide something for everyone. The way things have been going with the Rudd government, though, I’m expecting deregulation of fees and extra money for special projects without sufficient oversight.

  41. Mark

    Sam – that’s to make a bit of a mistake about the Rudd government. It’s not necessarily “right wing” – Rudd et al believe that there’s a political constituency for what they’ve done with the White Paper (people concerned about jobs and also people who want to see “something” done on climate change without anything much changing). Anyway, we’ve thrashed all that out on the thread about the white paper’s politics.

    There are zero votes in deregulation of fees – don’t forget they’ve already abolished full fees for domestic students.

    A more accurate extrapolation would be a half-cooked sort of implementation of the Bradley Review ideas with a lot less money and more fudging of the principles to keep various sectoral players sweet.

    It is possible, however, and I don’t think it’s just hope, that something closer to the quantum of funding and directions set out will eventuate. As a number of people have pointed out, higher ed is much closer to Rudd’s heart than climate change.

  42. Labor Outsider

    Mark, I agree with that – economic liberals would choke on their cornflakes at the thought of Rudd being associated with their principles. Indeed, Rudd is an unabashed advocate of industry policy – as seen in recent assistance measures for the automotive sector. Populist (as they see it) is a better description.

    Back to education though – another constraint for Rudd is his advocacy of an “Education Revolution” – I think we’d all agree that what we have seen so far doesn’t add up to that – so there will be some pressure for him to deliver policies over the next few years that measure up to the rhetoric.

  43. Mark

    Well, that’s right, Labor Outsider – the “classical liberal” vote isn’t a big one and the well off parents of kids doing law at sandstones or whatever are quite happy to see the fees on HECS and aren’t clamouring for the right to pay more because of their attachment to market ideology!

    The other factor with the “education revolution” is that there were some very strong hints given by Stephen Smith, Gillard and Rudd himself to people in the university sector that had the decision not been made to undercut Howard at the policy launch and call for a hault to the spendathon that the missing “chapter” was going to be buckets of money for universities. There’s been a strong expectation that will be forthcoming – I think all that’s given people pause is the state of the budget now. But I’m sure there’ll be a fair bit outlayed. The real test is whether the government will use Bradley to resist turning the thing into a dogs breakfast which tries to satisfy all the self-interested demands of the various groups of universities. Hopefully not – and again, the signals were that the whole point of Bradley was to shift the terms of the debate away from where they’d been stuck for a number of years.

  44. danny

    I’d like some of whatever the dweebs from Access Economics were on when they put chapt 3, table 1 together. Apparently next year, 2009, there’s gonna be an excess of 35,000 graduates cf labor market demand, (22,626 of them being post grads) and one short year later that excess will have become a shortfall of 90,000 graduates all up, that’s some turnaround, it really will need to be a revolution.
    It will include a shortfall of 927 post-grads. That’s got to be a dead giveaway they were off with the fairies, or pulling numbers out of a hat, estimating the australian economy as needing 32,000 post grads more in one year than the previous. To do what I’d like to know, apart from maybe a plethora of self-serving roles in the higher education industry and the bureacracy , continuing to disguise of under-employment. To paraphrase the immortal phrase from a Clinton campaign “It’s the stupid economy”.
    Maybe its to tutor the 1000 international research students they are going to provide scholarships for in areas of need. (Rec 13) Someone please explain how there can be areas of postgraduate research need such that international students scholarships are necessary, when there is a pre-existing excess of tens of thousands of post-grads. I find it intriguing: surely it can’t be that we’ve had massive over-enrolment of post-grads doing stuff, developing skills, the economy has no use for, while no-one has stepped up to the plate to do economically important type stuff, such that we have to provide 1000 area of need scholarships which are quarantined for international students? Or is there another factor/agenda or two at play?)
    Oh yeh that’s right, education exports are our third biggest export industry, and the two dirt based ones above it are dropping rapidly. Talk about a magic pudding.

  45. danny

    Oops, bad ‘rithmatic there: “estimating the australian economy as needing 32,000 24,000 post grads more in one year than the previous.” (60,405-36,033)… then it burbles along at 52,000 +/- 3,000 post-grads needed in the labor force, after the great boffin bubble of 2010.

  46. Laura

    Another q. about vouchers. Doesn’t funding follow students now anyway (eftsu)? Unis can overenrol by up to 5% if they want to but I don’t think it ever actually happens. And how will universities pay teaching staff if demand becomes more volatile?

  47. Mark

    That’s a good question, Laura. I think the difference is that the concept of over-enrolment will disappear, and there’ll be no allocation of places. To some degree a pattern of demand wil probably nevertheless become evident, but there’s a possibility that what the report wants to avoid (casualisation, permanent teaching staff inaccessible to students because focused solely on research) will be a perverse incentive for university managerialists. (“We can’t hire more permanent academics, we don’t know what the demand will be – justify yourself with research grants”) There’s a lot of inertia in a system like this.

  48. Mindy

    I wonder if lack of physical space for all potential students will increase the uptake of the use of podcasts of lectures n’stuff. Maybe podcast lectures and staggered lab times for those who need to do hands on work.

  49. Andrew Norton

    Before 2008, universities would only get the student contribution anmount for ‘over-enrolling’, with no Commonwealth subsidy, and have to pay penalties for exceeding their quota by more than 5%. Therefore the structural incentive was to aim for the target, and get some compensation for going slightly above (exactly hitting the target is hard, especially for unis relying on 2nd or lower preferences).

    But the fundamental point is that the price signals have to be correct. As they are wrong, and Bradley does not propose fixing them, a voucher system is potentially dangerous if universities behave in an economically rational way. For loss-making disciplines, the incentive is to start cutting Australian students regardless of demand and trying to recruit international students instead. The most important feature of vouchers may be the freedom to take fewer, not more, students.

    Though 2008 was the first year in which it was safe to expand student numbers, the fact that universities reduced rather than increased offers is a warning sign. Ditto low applications by universities for new places in recent years.

  50. conrad

    “To some degree a pattern of demand wil probably nevertheless become evident”

    Which I’m sure will be essentially identical to now for most courses, since most courses either don’t expand because it costs too much (e.g., most clinical courses), or they simply try and get as many students as possible because there are economies of scale. For example, without knowing, I’ll bet that Arts at QUT takes in as many people as possible above a certain floor, as do most Arts departments in Australia. Given funding follows students already, it’s hard to see how vouchers will change this. It seems to me that this will only occur if some university with a relatively reasonable standing (e.g., Monash) decides to seriously lower its entry standard (which seems somewhat likely for low enrollment subjects, such as many areas of science). This would pretty much kill off the bottom university, as I imagine you would see a little chain reaction as everyone underneath dropped their standards to make up for the loss (and stay alive), with the bottom one being killed off (which would be La Trobe and VUT in Victoria, since they are already going broke). This is obviously more likely to happen in places like Victoria and NSW where there are enough universities that could be affected, vs. Queensland where there is basically only one competitor in the good (UQ) and average (QUT) categories.

    “will be a perverse incentive for university managerialists.”

    It’s not clear to me they need incentives or reasons for doing things. Hopefully in a few years some will wake up and realize they actually need a workforce.

  51. Andrew Norton

    Presumably the major reason for casualisation is not fluctuations in student numbers but because a teaching workforce is only required for half the year and at the tutor level requires only less-qualified staff than are desirable for research positions.

    The logic of this report, which keeps revenue growth low, is that student growth if it occurs will be outside the traditional universities and in providers that keep costs down by teaching all year round, with a corresponding need for year round staff. But no time for them to do research.

  52. Laura

    Agreed that La Trobe and VU are the type of institutions likely to become vulnerable if students can more easily go to the more prestigious places, but on the other hand these institutions are the same ones in the business of providing to disadvantaged / rural/remote people which are the ones the report urges increasing participation among.

    No doubt there’s a direct connection between low prestige and high accessibility that perhaps implies a practical conflict between some of the recommendations.

  53. conrad

    Actually Laura, the relationship between low prestige and high accessibility is not thrilling (excluding the top of the top). It appears driven at least as much by location than anything else. If you have the Bradley report, you can see the actual numbers in Figure 8 (p 34.). There are fairly average universities with low accessibility (Canberra, Swinburne, UTS, Curtin) and a few somewhat more reasonable ones with higher accessibility (Tasmania, Newcastle).

    Rather amusingly, I work at one of those fairly average universities with low accessibility, and strangely enough, our VC constantly talks about equity and helping low income groups, as does the VC from Maquarie, another university that doesn’t cater to that group at all. Perhaps it’s on their minds.

  54. Laura

    I’m not quite sure what you’re telling me, Conrad. I myself work at a low prestige university with multiple regional campuses, and taught at the Mildura campus for two years. The ter there was and remains very very low and most of the BA and B Ed students enrolled there were special entry admissions. The massive difficulty of simply staffing campuses like that and providing necessary basic resources to them (like libraries and adequately sized teaching rooms) make them the very bottom of the barrel in any academic prestige sense.

    Yet these campuses provide teachers, nurses, social workers and business graduates for the region as well as making higher ed possible for smart kids whose families are poor because of the drought.

  55. conrad

    “I’m not quite sure what you’re telling me, Conrad”

    I’m just saying that it isn’t the case that low prestige equals higher accessibility, especially in the cities (far from it). Most of the average/low prestige universities in the big cities are set up for middle class/rich kids that don’t get into the prestige universities (Macquarie, Swinburne and UTS being good examples — I was always impressed by the number of BMWs and flash cars in the MQ car park when I worked there many years ago — cars which most of the lower level staff couldn’t even think of affording). Even most of the country/small city universities are not exactly high on equity either, and no doubt will become even less so with further reform as they migrate to the bigger cities (like Deakin and that Queensland university that gets all the bad press did), and close down their smaller regional/outer suburban campuses as UWS, VUT, and La Trobe are doing. Thus the idea that having low prestige universities increases access to poor (versus academically poor) groups is incorrect — they’re basically providing a service to middle-class kids who haven’t done very well at school, quite unlike the general rhetoric.

  56. Laura

    I think you’re conflating outer suburban and regional campuses. My experience is that the cohort is very different at each.

  57. Mark

    There are also outer suburban campuses which definitely have a “non-traditional” student cohort – UQ Ipswich, Griffith Logan and QUT Carseldine and ACU Banyo – I’ve taught at all of them. The second is under some pressure and the third has just been closed.

  58. Helen

    On this, Andrew Norton unsurprisingly sees the glass as half empty, because universities aren’t free to set their own fees.

    I wasn’t aware that uni fees were capped, being an ordinary working stiff who reads about rises in Uni fees in the paper, so I assumed the insitutions had the power to increase them. How does that work? I oppose any kind of voucher system after experiencing vouchers-in-all-but-name with the child care system. Government gives parents money to “follow the child” (well, with a bit of a delay), providers raise their fees to allow for what the market can bear. Lather, rinse, repeat. Vouchers are a recipe for providers setting fees at a level way above the voucher amount.

  59. Mark

    Helen, if memory serves, there are three categories of course and a range within which in each “band” universities can set their fees (for HECS).

  60. klaus k

    “Most of the average/low prestige universities in the big cities are set up for middle class/rich kids that don’t get into the prestige universities”

    Each of your Sydney examples (MQ, UTS) offer programs that aren’t available at ‘prestige’ institutions and other programs that have been, at certain times, more difficult to get into than equivalent courses at USyd or UNSW. Furthermore, ‘prestige’ hides a multitude of sins, and sometimes those idiots in the middle classes can recognise as much and will make an informed decision.

  61. Andrew Norton

    Vouchers and fee deregulation are separate, though I would argue complementary, issues. Under the Nelson reforms there was partial fee deregulation in that institutions could set their own student contributions up to a cap set by government. Previously the government set the student contributions (HECS). However, government control over what courses universities offered was intensified.

    Under the Bradley proposal, student contributions would be untouched but universities would face less control over what courses they offer.

    Though there are reasons to put place and fee deregulation together, in higher education they have been separate issues.

    Increased fees is not a sign of policy failure; in areas like childcare and higher education where there is historic under-investment it would be very surprising if they did not increase to finance the level of service demanded.