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.