The Bradley review of higher education came out yesterday. The timing is strange – why release this the day after the CPRS, in the leadup to Christmas – but a lot of the sentiments seem promising at first glance: massively increased participation in higher education, a focus on enrolling students from disadvantaged backgrounds, attacking the looming academic shortage in crucial disciplines.
The area that’s gotten most attention is the proposal to shake up the funding model, so that funding follows students, rather than being allocated to institutions so that they can offer places. On this, Andrew Norton unsurprisingly sees the glass as half empty, because universities aren’t free to set their own fees. Greg Craven is worried about being cherrypicked by the sandstones, because there will no longer be quotas on enrolments in sandstone university degrees.
But there are lots of other elements to this review that, as a working academic, sound pretty damn good. For instance, the report notes the highly skewed age distribution in the academic workforce, with large numbers of baby-boomer academics heading for retirement soon, and a shortage of mid-career academics to replace them, and identifies which disciplines (the humanities, nursing, and mathematical sciences) are particularly at risk. And there’s an acknowledgement of under-funding of research support, leading to a diversion of resources meant for teaching. And there’s recognition that student income support is seriously compromising the effort students are able to put into their education.
Even if the details of the solutions to these issues will properly be extensively debated, this report strikes me as a reasonable articulation of the type and magnitude of the problems in the tertiary teaching sector. Here’s hoping that the government actually responds in proportion this time, not with a half-arsed political fix like with the CPRS.