Archive for August, 2011

Still blogging, just not here

My new blog is here.

My new blog

I start my new job at the Grattan Institute tomorrow, and one thing that will change as a result is my blogging. The change won’t be too big, but as one of Grattan’s public faces I need to make sure that my blogging doesn’t detract from Grattan’s focus on areas where ‘fact-based analysis’ can contribute to public debate.

While I don’t think facts alone can settle all or even a majority of debates in contemporary politics, the most productive debates are usually around evidence and empirical relationships.

I don’t believe that more than a small minority of people acquire their basic worldview from reading or intellectual reflection. Worldviews are largely the product of socialisation, life experience, and personality. While I have an enduring interest in political philosophy, and especially liberal political philosophy, I don’t think this kind of intellectual endeavour is primarily about persuading people who are not already in the same broad ideological space. Rather, political philosophy helps turn the intuitions that come from a general worldview into something more coherent. For this reason, my overtly classical liberal writing has been aimed mostly at people who share some of my normative assumptions, rather than a wider audience.

People are far more open to persuasion on empirical grounds, and this is one reason I have generally taken this approach (apart from being the kind of person who reads ABS reports out of pure interest). While some people insist on their own idiosyncratic take on what the facts are, not many flatly deny that empirical evidence is important. The way I read Grattan’s approach, it is to work in this empirical space – not denying that more ideological perspectives are important, but leaving those to other people and organisations. So that’s what I will be doing too during my time with Grattan.

I decided that the easiest way to keep blogging while keeping within a slightly narrower brief was to set up a new blog, This blog will stay online, but from 15 August 2011 upates will be at the new blog.

The rise and partial fall of full-fee students

DEEWR is painfully slow to release new data, but they deserve credit for at least making old data more accessible with their new online uCube facility. Constructing trend data has often meant collating data from each separate year, but uCube will now speed that for many items in the higher education student data collection.

Though it required some quick extra calculations from me, the figure below shows trends in the proportion of full-time equivalent students who are full fee. The proportion went from a bit over a quarter in 2001, to more than 40% in 2009. The trend will have reversed since: the over-enrolment frenzy for Commonwealth-supported students is pushing up their numbers, while full-fee undergraduate domestics are being phased out and international student numbers are down. If we are lucky, DEEWR will produce the exact numbers sometime late in 2012.

Proportion of students who are full fee in Australian universities

How will deregulating uni places affect regional unis?

In today’s Higher Education Supplement, University of New England VC Jim Barber becomes one of the first non-Group of Eight VCs to raise questions about what happens when the supply of university places is deregulated, while prices remain at flat regulated levels. He fears that regional universities like his own will lose out as metro universities expand.

I have no sympathy for the old higher education system, run in the interests of institutions rather than students. We should not narrow students’ options so they have to end up at a regional university, if they want a university education at all. But nor should we deprive universities like UNE of the tools of competition, particularly on price.

The figure below, from a University of Melbourne analysis of international student fees, shows that regional unis have charged low fees to give themselves market share. Indeed, on average several of them earn roughly the same amount for an international as a domestic student (the figure also gives quite a few clues as to how the money is spent).

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