How much will Bradley vouchers be worth?

In an article I wrote for the Higher Education Supplement last week, I estimated that the per student funding increase from the Bradley review could be as low as 1-2% for most disciplines. I now think that this is an underestimate.

The difficulty is that though prices for student places are a critical element of a voucher scheme, the Bradley report doesn’t recommend either actual prices or a price-setting mechanism. The only specific proposal on prices is that teaching and nursing courses get the 25% increase in student contributions they missed out under the Nelson reforms in 2005.

So any estimates of prices rely on inference and assumptions. The committee recommends a 10% increase in teaching and learning funding, but also two clawbacks on teaching and learning funding. 4% of teaching and learning funding would go to social inclusion programs, and another 2.5% to a ‘performance’ fund that could include the results of teaching surveys, graduate outcomes etc. Because these clawbacks would be distributed based on criteria either than student enrolments, I take the view that this funding should not be counted towards voucher values.

In my estimates for the HES article, I assumed that most of the 10% increase to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme that would fund the Commonwealth contribution to the vouchers would in fact be clawed back to finance social inclusion and performance incentives, leaving only a 3% increase in CGS funding. The % increase in the voucher value (ie, Commonwealth plus student contributions) would be further diluted by the fact that student contributions, with the exception of teaching and nursing, would be unchanged, leaving most disciplines with a 1-2% real increase.

However, it has since been put to me that this does not take into account funding currently going to other teaching and learning or equity programs. If we assume that they are all entirely put towards financing the clawback most closely related to their current objectives, this reduces the call on CGS funds. If this is the case, it takes the increase in Commonwealth contributions up to 6% and increases in voucher values (after the student contribution dilution) to 3% to 5% for most disciplines.

The most important point – which I will be making at length in a CIS Issue Analysis paper due out on 4 February – is that voucher schemes won’t work without a proper price-setting mechanism. Clearly a funding proposal relying on government-set prices that can only be guessed at does not constitute such a mechanism.

8 Responses to “How much will Bradley vouchers be worth?

  • 1
    conrad
    January 17th, 2009 06:54

    I guess the other problem with the Bradley report is what actually gets implemented. It isn’t hard to see the government picking and choosing various politically motivated things like “social inclusion”, but not giving anyone any money for it (or giving away money for it, but taking it away via stealth through some other method) — so it would simply end up as a cost, like the deletion of Australian full-fee places (replaced by yet more underfunded ones).
    .
    I agree with your article about the research status/teaching status of universities. I wonder how broad “broad” is going to be. There are areas out there that have poor student demand but reasonably strong research groups, like mathematics and physics. If universities are forced to teach in these areas to keep the research groups going, it is going to be a disaster — either courses will be stuck in popular degrees where they shouldn’t be, or unpopular courses with bad outcomes (like physics) will be heavily marketed to students that are not necessarily suited to them.

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    January 17th, 2009 08:10

    Conrad – I don’t think there would be any problem (other than the obvious financial constraints) in researching without much teaching. It is teaching without research that is the problem, according to Bradley. But it really is pretty silly. They admit there is no evidence of systemic positive synergies between research and teaching (and as I have argued in the past, there are more obvious tensions, given that there are only 24 hours in the day and that most teacher-researchers prefer research). They offer no argument as to why student demand should drive research – why, for example, do we need every university to be research active in management and commerce when there is already a massive (albeit dimininshing!) private industry doing much the same thing.

  • 3
    conrad
    January 17th, 2009 10:49

    There are certainly problems with having too many teaching staff that do no research (no doubt some are fine — this is essentially the role graduate students fill now — no doubt these guys could be replaced by them quite easily, and we wouldn’t have to hear about exploited graduate students any more — just ones made poorer instead). Here are three:
    1) Some professional accreditation bodies simply exclude them, so even if it could be done, you can’t do it (especially if we see a move to more and more postgraduate courses, which is rather likely. Thanks Melbourne model).
    2) It is hard to imagine how you would attract people to teaching only jobs who could do a good job in may areas (say, engineering), since its status in Australia would be approximately the equivalent of what sticks to the bottom of your shoe. Thus universities would need to work out career paths for them (unlikely). The would also need to work out why, say, a qualified engineer would want to do a relatively crappy job and get paid less in a university than they could anywhere else. One of the few things Australian universities still have going for them is that you get some time to do research. If that was taken away (which is now seen as a positive job condition), then all you would have left for staff is a McDonald’s style education system with people teaching stuff from the 1960s when they learnt it. So to get the same level of staff, you would need to work out how much more compensation you would have to add for the loss of a condition. Thus these guys may cost you a fair bit more than you think.
    3) This problem would be especially bad if only a small number of universities do it. It’s already hard enough to transfer jobs thanks to the small market and nepotism — if there were teaching only universities, anyone working at them would most likely be stuck at where they worked (and hence lose any bargaining power) until they retire. What type of a fool do that?

  • 4
    Andrew Norton
    January 17th, 2009 13:54

    Conrad – My argument is that we should be less hung up about the word ‘university’. The Bradley proposal is a problem because depending on how we define research active there are many universities that would probably struggle to qualify across all teaching areas. I don’t think that either rebadging them as colleges or requiring them to divert resources to research makes sense.

    Particularly in the vocational degrees, teachers with current or recent professional experience is likely to be at least as valuable as research, and probably much more so as researchers are required to teach in fields in which they are not research active. Almost by definition the major content of undergraduate degrees leading to the professions is not cutting edge, it is the generally accepted minimum needed to work in that field.

    The most sensible thing to do is just to leave it to the institutions to decide their own priorities. There is a large teaching-only higher education sector in the US, so while there may be some labour market advantages in combining teaching and research tasks, it clearly isn’t impossible to separate them.

  • 5
    Libertas
    January 18th, 2009 01:52

    Please join the Facebook group of Libertarian bloggers.

  • 6
    Lawrence Stedman
    January 19th, 2009 14:19

    Andrew – I think the Bradley report recommended the 4% and 2.5% as additional to the 10% (see p. 250), not as clawbacks.

  • 7
    Andrew Norton
    January 19th, 2009 14:36

    Lawrence – I don’t think so. If that was the case, why did they include that funding in a separate table 18 on p.250 and not include it in table 17, which has the total package costs? The language in the relevant sections over pp. 158-161 is also suggestive of a clawback, especially for the performance-based funding when the report talks about ‘quarantining’ the 2.5% of the total teaching and learning funding. Regarding it as a clawback is also consistent with the total funding cost given by Bradley in media interviews of around $7 billion. If it was extra money the total cost would be headed towards $9 billion. The lack of clarity is making our jobs difficult, but I think a clawback is the most defensible interpretation.

  • 8
    Lawrence Stedman
    January 20th, 2009 11:25

    Andrew – yes, I was hoping that Recommendation 31 implied otherwise, but it seems not.