Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1

With submissions to the higher education base funding review due on Thursday, some organisations are starting to put their ideas out into the media. I thought I would start an occasional series on dubious proposals made to the review (though I suppose this is just a more specific version of what this blog has been about since it started).

Behind the AFR‘s paywall is a story about the Australian Technology Network’s submission. They are suggesting that graduates who work in areas of skills shortage get a discount on their HELP debt repayments.

But generally where there are skills shortages the market deals with financial incentives: the pay goes up. And why should taxpayers rather than employers fork out when staff get more expensive?

The only example given is a rather sexist one, that female engineers should be given an added incentive to stay in the profession. The Beyond Graduation survey, of graduates three years out, found that engineering graduates were already earning good money (median salary $75,000) and had the second highest rate of income growth since their first job (63%). If there is a problem with women in engineering, I doubt it is money. A female engineering graduate isn’t likely to earn more doing something else.

There is already one of these schemes in place aimed at maths, science, education and nursing graduates, with HECS-HELP remissions for those who work in designated occupations. It started in a bad year overall for graduate employment, but the initial data suggests that it has had no impact.

Given these remissions are paid to all people who head into the target occupations, who overwhelmingly would have done so anyway (eg most women who study engineering for four years are interested in being engineers), even if it has some effect it is a very expensive way to get a marginal change in behaviour.

Rather than extending HECS-HELP remissions, we should be scrapping those we have already.

6 Responses to “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1

  • 1
    Robert Wiblin
    March 28th, 2011 19:34

    Is the evidence that HECS subsidies haven’t changed enrolment public yet?

  • 2
    Robert Wiblin
    March 28th, 2011 19:35

    The benefits of more female engineers is unclear to me to begin with!


  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    March 29th, 2011 04:16

    More wisdom from Katja in the link. And it is curious that while domestic male enrolments are at risk of falling below 40%, there is still more public concern expressed about the number of women doing engineering.

    This policy seems more aimed at recent graduates – and at least in theory I can see reasons why aspects of it might work. For example, the early childhood benefit applies for people working in certain postcodes (and I don’t have initial data on that aspect). This doesn’t require any change in basic career plans, and provides an immediate financial benefit.

    We need to be careful to distinguish different aspects of price impacts. Theory would predict:
    1) Very little influence on the attend/don’t attend decision while prices are well below private benefits.
    2) Little influence on discipline choices, as these represent major life decisions that should generally follow a prospective student’s interests, aptitudes and ambitions. But many people have multiple interests, as seen in the rise of double/combined degrees, creating some scope for price to influence choices.
    3) Greatest influence between institutions, cheaper and more expensive ways of achieving the same goals.

  • 4
    Rajat Sood
    March 29th, 2011 08:46

    There are spillover benefits to the entire profession if studying engineering and becoming an engineer are made to look less blokey, even if it doesn’t lead to a single extra woman studying it. The industry, universities and federal government look and feel more progressive for recognising a ‘problem’ and the moral obloquy for lack of women in the profession can be passed over to other parties such as high schools or parents.

    As for salaries, my guess is that a woman with the brains to do engineering and the social skills of an an average woman rather than a male engineering student will earn a lot more in finance or law.

  • 5
    March 30th, 2011 05:09

    “And it is curious that while domestic male enrolments are at risk of falling below 40%, there is still more public concern expressed about the number of women doing engineering.”
    It is a bit odd that no-one seems to care about the first of these, especially given that it is likely to cause a pile of social problems in the future. My bet is that it is probably because many of the people missing out probably incorrectly assume that going to university tends to be a waste of time anyway, so very few people complain about it which means it doesn’t get the same sort of attention as other gender equity issues do. There is some noise occasionally about similar issues in the school system, but even then it’s pretty muted, despite the rather obvious outcomes it will cause.

  • 6
    March 31st, 2011 08:43

    “It is a bit odd that no-one seems to care about the first of these”

    Wowsers! I totally agree with Conrad on this. Why is this even an issue. These days not having a degree can be a bonus. Take those hard blokes out in the sticks drivin dem trucks. Make a heck more cash doin that some bachelor’s of urban nutrition degree, that’s for sure. Even heard a story about this bloke in the kimberlies whoe was gettin paid 50 bucks an hour at a pub for collecting empty glasses. Unbelieveable.

    In terms of gender enrollments, this may be a topic for another day. But as a student in the late 90’s, there were sooo many changes to the school system to favour the sheilas it wasnt funny. They down-weighted the male subjects (Maths, Chem, physics, etc), girl-lified these subjects (e.g. less maths, more ‘so what does physics mean to me questions’), they gave all these support classes for girls in those subjects, but not to blokes doing the English…and so on, and so on. I mean some idiot thought ‘people with degrees earn more, so lets get more females through uni to bridge the wage gap’. If they hadn’t thought about the causality and corelation, they certainly didn’t see the mining boom come through! Classic. Anyway, these bozos need to realise that men and women have, on average, different brains, different talents and different wants. If one group wants to earn more, take more risks, develop different skills, well then so be it. But for gawd sakes, keep ya social engineering paws to yourself. It’s self defeating anyway !!