Thoughts on education revisited

Last year the then Turnbull government made some education policy decisions.

Then the government intends to make university students pay more and at lower levels of income  for their education. In general this is a good thing. At the same time, however, the government will be paying less to the universities to provide that teaching. So what do I predict is going to happen:

  • Universities will substitute away from expensive teaching activities and towards inexpensive teaching activities. So expect to see more business and law students and fewer engineering students.
  • Universities will substitute away from now slightly lower profit margin students to relatively higher profit margin students, so expect to see more international students and/or fee paying students.

I find it strange that the government is cutting the more value adding activity of universities (i.e. teaching) and still throwing money at the lower value-add activity that is research. This is consistent with the notion that university research is a primary driver of innovation and growth  (it’s is a nice story, but probably not true).

What happened next?

Foreign student numbers at our top universities are booming while local student enrolments are static, according to a new report.

There were 168,985 overseas students starting courses last year at the nation’s top institutions — up 18,812 on 2016.

But the number of domestic enrolments rose by only 5143 to 416,371, the study by the Australian Population Research Institute revealed.

The problem is that the Liberals think that malign neglect is a viable university policy and that a funding freeze would punish those pesky trouble-makers that vex them so much.

If the government were keen to implement change in the university system they would look to modify the governance of universities. I would look to making, at least, two changes:

  • University councils must be made up of alumni and donors.
  • University councils must have, at least, half (if not more) of its members elected by the alumni.

Those would be serious reforms beyond just playing money games.

My view on what needs to be done has not changed.

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30 Responses to Thoughts on education revisited

  1. BorisG

    Donors yes. But Why do you believe in wisdom of alumni? Please explain (TM).

  2. Sinclair Davidson

    Why do you believe in wisdom of alumni?

    They have skin in the game – declining perceptions of their alma mater impacts the value of their human capital.

  3. stackja

    Why do so many Australians need to go to university?
    Overseas can pay.

  4. Just Interested

    Without disagreeing, isn’t it the case that ANU aside, your proposed changes would require state governments to do the deed? I thought that (albeit now being almost a historical curiosity) universities are established under state legislation?

  5. Confused Old Misfit

    Can’t see the need for any government involvement in education. Professional qualifications are set by the relevant professional guilds/unions. Government involvement is as a rubber stamp and doesn’t seem to guarantee your doctor/dentist/ plumber/teacher or sparky will be fully qualified.
    The much maligned market sorts out the bad from the mediocre to the good and excellent.
    The profession of educator is not so different from that of the carpenter. Universities should stand or fall on their own merits and not be reliant on the taxpayer.
    Why are there so many foreign students? They pay their own way at a price point that makes them worth more in income to the university than domestic students garner in government funding.
    Without government involvement (except for funded research) the alumni would really have skin in the game.

  6. Ubique

    Just advertised a job. The advert set out the selection criteria and stated that applications should address them. Out of 22 University degree qualified people applying, just one did so. The rest mostly just sent in their resume, some with a brief covering letter. Shortlisting was easy. That one applicant got the job. Being near sixty years old, no obstacle.

  7. Ivan Denisovich

    Universities should stand or fall on their own merits and not be reliant on the taxpayer.

    Sometimes reads like a bit of a rant and doesn’t propose solutions but some interesting points nonetheless:

    Recent takes on the problem have focused on two specific matters. First, the de-platforming culture of our campuses, where the prevailing culture is one of groupthink and fear of free speech (of opposing ideas, in fact); and second, the non-take-up by the Australian National University of a generous offer from the Ramsay Centre to host a Western Civilisation program.

    Greater concerns among conservatives (and smart classical liberals) relate to the long march through higher education of dangerous postmodernist ideologies that have decimated the humanities in particular; the emerging culture of “grant troughing” among those whom we used to think of as “scientists”; the corporatisation of universities, with its own “long march of the marketing bureaucrats”; the out-of-balance ratio of academic to administrative staff; the baloney of “quality” bureaucracies; the misplaced priorities which bury teaching and learning and worship research, with its prestigious, embedded, career-making and breaking grants structures; and the self-serving scam of “life-long learning”. This last is essentially rubbish on steroids, and dangerously misleading rubbish at that.

    The last has deluded an entire gener­ation about the need for university degrees and created a scary FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon among the young. British author David Craig in his (co-authored) recent book, The Great University Con: How We Betrayed a Generation, has done us all a service in bringing this to wider attention. (The self-serving cabal which benefits from this scam has done its darndest to bury the book, of course.)

    Recently I was asked, on whose watch did all this happen? A darn good question.

    It is such a long, long story, policy failure-wise. Hawke minister John Dawkins – he of the “Dawkins university” – deserves an honourable mention. By doubling the number of universities overnight in the late 1980s and turning vaguely useful polytechnics into generally useless pretend research universities, with no hope of ever challenging the old sandstones, which garner about 70 per cent of the total research funds, Dawkins singlehandedly made a smallish problem huge.

    Dawkins also unleashed the idea of HECS, with its linked loans schemes, thus creating the kernel of another huge problem: student debt.

    Yet, a series of Coalition education ministers must share in the blame – there is enough to go around – for misdiagnosing the problem, for seeing it as all about funding and, indeed, increasing that funding – albeit at a slower rate of increase than the socialists – for adding to higher education regulatory systems, and for ignoring core system-failure issues.

    Each side of politics, stumbling along in the dark and seemingly unaware of larger issues that should cause disquiet to all sides, has contributed to a steadily building monster that, strangely, avoids general political scrutiny.

    RTWT

    http://www.newsweekly.com.au/nwmobile/article.php?id=58378

  8. Sinclair Davidson

    your proposed changes would require state governments to do the deed?

    Yes – that would be one mechanism. Another would be for the commonwealth to use their powers to legislate for students to force a change.

  9. Sinclair Davidson

    Out of 22 University degree qualified people applying, just one did so.

    The curse of electronic submission.

  10. Anthony

    Agree to all above.

    I would also suggest less decision making by committees. Give more power to mid level workers and have the committees review outcomes.

  11. Squirrel

    “This is consistent with the notion that university research is a primary driver of innovation and growth (it’s is a nice story, but probably not true).”

    Sadly, that may be the reality for Australia, even if innovation is doing very useful things for other economies.
    We now seem to have it is bipartisan policy that a big Australia is the only option, without any explanation of how this rapidly growing Australia will pay its way in the world and maintain, let alone increase, the very high material living standards and public spending which Australians regard (and vote for) as their absolute right. If our coal reserves eventually, as the climate worriers would have it, become a “stranded asset”, what do we have to replace the tens of billions a year in lost export earnings – SFA as far as I can see.

  12. woolfe

    Larger companies now use electronic CV filtering for job applications. If the KPI’s for the position are not addressed in the CV or covering letter the application will not be seen by a human.

  13. Shy Ted

    Bring in the foreign students. Indoctrinate them into Marxism. Then send them home to practice what they’ve learned. Pay the university educators on piece rates. They’ll be bankrupt in year 3.

  14. Anthony

    “This is consistent with the notion that university research is a primary driver of innovation and growth (it’s is a nice story, but probably not true).”

    Sadly, that may be the reality for Australia, even if innovation is doing very useful things for other economies.

    Teaching is distribution of ideas, research is making new ideas. Far more easier and cheaper to teach and be paid for it. Teachers are inherently massively more replaceable than researchers. I think there is plenty of pro growth research being done in Universities. The issue is they often can’t find a market due to Australia’s small market, lack of capital and inefficient and high cost regulatory structure.

  15. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    If the government were keen to implement change in the university system they would look to modify the governance of universities.

    Couldn’t agree more. Mad leftists and some ‘make your mark’ impressarios (not mutually exclusive categories) need to be reined in. A trickle-down effect reducing many non-line functions and useless reporting would be a start. This would also reduce trough-feeding bureaucrats and allow more academics to flourish; carefully chosen and usefully productive ones, not back-scratchers on the rise preaching the Gospel of Leftism.

    As noted above (along with many other good comments), Dawkins has a lot to answer for. There may have been a case to fund a capital city series of universities of technology, but that is all. The CAE system would have done for the rest in the regions. Bright candidates used to travel to attend tertiary studies and in Britain and Europe they still do. Additionally, the old capital city university residential colleges of the best and brightest were, and still are, important cultural assets, best nurtured with scholarships offered to excellent rural students rather than denigrated as elitist. Of course they are elitist; that is why they matter, and they do not need to be made to conform to current socialist dictates. Currently, quality rural students may be drawn into local variants, far less good.

    Excellence is a standard once considered vital, now discounted. It needs to be revived, asap.

    Any university declining to teach a course on Western Civilization, or exulting that they are in the business of ‘unlearning’, has already slit its own throat. It’s a long hard haul back, guys. Especially in bequests from those who recall the glory days. Bequests are your future, and you have sent them to the dogs’ home.

  16. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    If our coal reserves eventually, as the climate worriers would have it, become a “stranded asset”, what do we have to replace the tens of billions a year in lost export earnings – SFA as far as I can see.

    I doubt China will let them become ‘stranded’ for too long. We may not appreciate their way of ensuring that though.

    Political madness does wax and wane, but we have never before faced such an ideological Armageddon attack from the left such as ‘climate change’ presents, a hoax of monumental proportions. Its insidious fear creeps into every natural Australian drought, fire, flood, cyclone or crop failure, and will be hard to unsettle from national consciousness within a thirty year time span, as the hypothesis is unfalsifiable, with all climatic events encompassed within its domain. Empiricism, skepticism? Pah! Dismissed out of hand.

    Welfare herds and the job-seeking grandchildren of Get-Up Worriers are going to be disappointed unless we see some fairly significant political changes soon regarding the money-making part of our economy. The money has to come from somewhere, and currently I can’t see from where; the local economy alone will not cut it, and we have far too many expectations to make it in the vastly competitive world of international services sufficient to support all that we have today, even though some of us might still prosper. Welcome to Venezuela.

  17. Death Giraffe

    Shut it down. Fire them all.
    Oh sorry, thought we were talking about the ABC. What are we on about here? Universities?
    Shut them down. Fire them all.

  18. Petros

    How do we stop funding rubbish degrees like social sciences, media studies and women’s studies? Is funding given as a block with no say in how it is spent? The powers that be were pushing for STEM degrees recently and this seems like the way to go.

  19. Mr Black

    End foreign enrolments for a start. The mission of Australian universities is NOT to teach the rest of the world at the expense of our own young people. In addition, many of those foreign students study to get back door entry into Australia using their degree to qualify as a skilled migrant. It also forces universities to significantly dumb-down their courses to ensure that those people pass, when really they shouldn’t be. And lastly, it adds even more pressure to the Australian housing market, those 600,000 foreign students all have to live somewhere and they force up rents around all universities.

  20. Tim Neilson

    It also forces universities to significantly dumb-down their courses to ensure that those people pass, when really they shouldn’t be.

    I do a bit of university lecturing and my sister is a full time academic. Foreign students aren’t on average any worse than the products of Australia’s school system and in fact often speak and write better English.

  21. Eric

    Two issues here. One is the idea that public servants operating on taxpayer funding think it wise to pursue “profit” in university education. The other is the “research” bit, which simply highlights the fact that most university activity is vocational.
    Our system should be primarily vocational, with a teaching function only. Research funding ought to be 100% contestable, preferably with peer assessment. (Most of our best PhDs go overseas because of the specialisation involved anyway.)
    I’d like to see a lot more focus on teacher performance and teaching outcomes. At present we have a huge number of half baked academics pretending they’re the equivalent of Einstein.

  22. Eyrie

    I’m with DG. We would not miss them.
    For future engineers, scientists, mathematicians have small specialist schools. Lawyers can have an apprenticeship system whose numbers are closely regulated. Any subject whose name incorporates “studies” can safely be disappeared with no loss. Robert Heinlein came to that conclusion about 50 years ago when ruminating on the university system in California.

  23. Roger

    Reverse the Dawkins Revolution.

    Cut the universities and fund training schools & apprenticeships at a fraction of the cost.

  24. john malpas

    But =without mass university education the indoctrination of Marxism
    might falter, as reality is allowed to bite

  25. Billy Boy

    What Eyrie suggests is what happened when I finished high school in the 1950’s. Pharmacists, optometrists, lawyers, engineers and accountants had an apprenticeship route to professional qualifications, training at a technical college and working in the field. My father trained as a dentist as an apprentice in the 1920’s before the UQ faculty was established. Are dentists better trained today? I doubt it.

  26. Started doing my degree in 1990.
    Got failed first year for misgendering.
    Sod that, said Winston.
    As far as I’m concerned, one STEM Uni per capital city, and the rest can go bankrupt.
    Does any one know how much the students owe the system?
    You watch Shorten – he’ll go for a student loan forgiveness scenario if the numbers look too close at the next election.
    Shut them down – sack them all.

  27. Boambee John

    Winston

    Perhaps I am labouring under a misunderstanding.

    I assumed that cisgendering would be when the blokes on campus chase after the cute girls, and the cuties make sure not to run too fast.

    Does misgendering occur when the blokes chase the blokes?

  28. Boambee John:

    Perhaps I am labouring under a misunderstanding.

    Certainly you are, my fine feathered friend.
    Cisgendering is about rooting the opposite sex.
    Misgendering is saying, in the throes of passion, “Chuck us another beer, will ya mate?”

  29. GoWest

    The impact is here already – we cant get people to go to mining uni’s, already there are calls to bring in O/S specialists because of a lack of Oz trained people..

    Most of the “improved” govt revenue comes from mining…

    Govt’s are so dumb!!

    Grads get $100kpa … FIFO

  30. Though those domestic numbers are 2017 compared to 2016, before the policy changes were announced. Under current policy, universities receive student contributions for every domestic undergraduate they enrol, but total Commonwealth contributions are capped at 2017 levels. This does create a financial logic that favours courses where the student contribution is most of the total funding rate, such as business and law.
    However, history suggests that demand, institutional conservatism, and mission factors explain domestic enrolments better than funding rates or profits. As demand as measured by applications or acceptances was trending down for business and law in 2018, it’s more likely that enrolments in those fields will decrease than increase; engineering is looking stable (small decrease in acceptances).

    Research funding started trending down before teaching funding, and took another hit in MYEFO.

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