‘Developing a New Vision for Post-Secondary Education: Ideas for Government’ Report – Some Insights
The Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education’s recent report, entitled ‘Developing a New Vision for Post-Secondary Education: Ideas for Government’, sheds light on the issue of sustainable higher education funding.
We dissect the key takeaways from the report, including the question of public vs private university funding, the potential return of demand-driven higher education funding, and the need for more effective management of the university census date.
Public Versus Private Funding
The balance between public and private funding is addressed in the report to determine where the necessary funds should be coming from.
The report discusses Australia’s need for a higher proportion of graduates for national purposes, and why greater government funding for higher education is therefore needed.
It argues that the privatisation of tertiary education has led to market failure, under-investment and an over-reliance on international student fee income.
Australia “needs a review of our funding system in the context of what we expect from post-compulsory education, not just from higher education.”
Professor Margaret Gardner AO
President and Vice-Chancellor of Monash University
Public funding, or federal government funding, needs to be clearly articulated, while private funding in the form of student contributions from domestic and international students needs to be managed appropriately.
To obtain the necessary funding arrangements, it is said that negotiation with state governments and additional Commonwealth funds is pivotal.
Mr Andrew Norton, Higher Education Program Direct at the Grattan Institute, provides the conclusion that a “mix of public and private funding will generally be bigger, richer and more able to serve a wide range of purposes, than a system that is entirely public or entirely private in its funding.”
Just how to achieve this balance lies in the hands of the Australian government.
Demand Driven Funding
In the report, Norton also encourages a return to demand driven funding.
Demand driven funding increased the number of students attending university, to accommodate the increasing demand for healthcare professionals which the nation desperately needed.
Norton stresses that demand driven funding should be restored “by the early 2020s, so universities can prepare for a big increase in the school leaver population.”
It can be argued that the current system provides more of an incentive to decrease student places than increase, with the end of demand driven funding in 2017 often being referred to as a ”funding freeze”.
These factors from the report suggest that Australian universities will simply not be able to meet imminent student demand – demand driven funding can actually be restored to higher education policy without legislation, and it is now a matter of urgency that it is restored to the funding system.
Changing the Census Date
The report also says that demand driven funding is expensive for governments, which is why it’s important to look for ways to facilitate its return by reducing expenses in other areas.
In order to free up public funds for the higher education sector without causing disruption, Norton suggests changing the university census date, which is the date which your enrolment is finalised for the semester, and students can no longer drop courses (subjects) without incurring a financial penalty.
7% of people who make it to the census date end up failing every single subject in their first semester and eventually dropping out.
Because they missed the census date, they are left with a HELP debt.
Norton suggests that 2% of full-time equivalent student enrolments could be saved by more effectively managing the census date.
This could be engaging students prior to the date, or changing its name to something like ’payment date’.
The report also urges for a funding structure that supports the higher education system.
These changes need to be carried out from the perspective of prospective students, current students and recent graduates to create pathways that blend the academic, vocational and professional elements of study in an effective way.
Students must be able to graduate with the ability to manage and mould their careers, with greater career guidance being necessary at university.
The need for investment in higher education all comes back to its purpose, which is touched upon at the very beginning of ‘Developing a New Vision for Post-Secondary Education: Ideas for Government’.
Summed up, university education plays a role in economic benefit and better employment outcomes to the individual, as well as related benefits of greater health, longer life, greater social volunteering and less incarceration.
The broader economic benefits of an educated population include higher levels of workforce participation and productivity, export earnings and profit from innovation.