Archive for the 'Higher education' Category

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

A president and a VC

Two events to promote:

At lunchtime Thursday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus will give a Deakin lecture on the future of personal and economic freedom, at Melbourne University at lunchtime. For details email [email protected]

And on Thursday evening at Federation Square in Melbourne, Oxford VC Andrew Hamilton will speak at a Grattan Institute event on how to create a world class university. You can book here.

Is an arts degree a good financial investment? #2

Earlier in the month I looked at median weekly income for arts graduates, all graduates, and people with certificate III/IV qualifications, as reported in the 2006 census (note the various data caveats in the first post). I found that arts graduates had similar income profiles to certificate III/IV holders.

The figure below looks at males with income around the 75th percentile for their qualification in 2006, and tells a different story. In their 20s, earnings are fairly similar between the three groups (in the rather crude way I have had to do this, the ‘all graduates’ aged 25-29 just missed out on the next income bracket, and if the test had been ‘all non-arts graduates’ may have made it).

By their 30s, arts graduates in this part of the income distribution are clearly pulling away from the certificate III/IV people. But they are not gaining on all graduates. Indeed, the gap is likely to be larger than shown at the median, because graduates at the 75th percentile are ticking the highest census income category of $2,000 a week or more. We can’t tell from this data source how much they are earning, other than that it must be over $500 a week more than an arts graduate in the same relative position.

My new job

After more than 11 years working for the CIS and the University of Melbourne I have a new job. From the middle of next month I will take up a position at the Grattan Institute, directing their new higher education program. The Grattan media release is here.

CIS and U of M are both great places to work, but I’ve long wanted to do more research and writing on higher education than I could with my current jobs. I’ve always had many more ideas for papers than I have had time in the week. Grattan offered me the opportunity to write those papers, and without having to leave Carlton. My new office is about a block away from my Melbourne University office, and a few blocks from where I live.

Meanwhile, I have one last issue of Policy to finish off.

Is an arts degree a good financial investment?

Last week I spoke at a seminar on the public funding of the humanities and social sciences. In my presentation I showed a slide of the earnings of male arts bachelor degree graduates compared to all graduates, showing that the median male arts graduate earned significantly less than other bachelor graduates (less than the slide suggests, since I did not extract arts graduates from the total).

What I should also have done is added median earnings for the upper vocational qualifications, which I have now done in the figure below (due to limitations in the way the ABS publishes census data, I have taken median as the mid-point in the income catgory in which the median person appears). Overall it shows a quite similar earnings profile with the arts graduates, with the effects of earlier full-time workforce entry showing in the higher earnings for certificate III/IV qualified workers in their 20s.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why do public universities use feeder colleges?

Many public universities have close relationships with feeder colleges – more politely known as providing ‘pathways’ to university. Some universities have set up their own, such as Monash College or UTS’s INSEARCH. But others collaborate with private providers such as Navitas. For example, Deakin has an arrangement with the Navitas subsidary the Melbourne Institute of Business and Technology, and Macquarie with the Sydney Institute of Business and Technology.

So why don’t public universities directly offer courses to these students? There would seem to be several reasons:

1) If they took the students directly, they would have to report that they sometimes take school leavers with weak Year 12 results. Whether or not the students improve a lot in their year at the feeder college, the back door entry method allows the course to have higher apparent admission standards.

2) They aren’t equipped to do remedial work – better to clearly identify the problematic students, and have another organisation teach them in different ways.

3) They are equipped to do remedial work, but can’t do it on Commonwealth-supported rates – hence putting them in the full-fee sector. Read the rest of this entry »

Dubious ideas submitted to the base funding review, part 4

For some people at universities, their public funding level isn’t just about the money. It is sending a coded message.

The Council of Australian Law Deans submission to the base funding review seems to take this view. Along with business students, law students get the lowest subsidy levels – just $1,800 a year, while student contributions are more than $9,000. And that $1,800 is saying something.

First, it is apparently saying something to legal academics.

It dampens the aspirations of law schools to harness the natural idealism of many beginning law students and to educate them not only for their own career but also for altruistic ends.

Why this might be so remains mysterious. And in what may be an unfortunate consequence of cut-and-paste submission writing, it is contradicted in the next paragraph:

To enhance a broader perspective, law schools today are consciously embracing a more critical perspective and a more deliberate ethos of law reform, rather than merely teaching the law as it is.

Whether this makes for better legal education is another matter, but for this post sufficient to say that it disposes of the first argument.

But even if academics aren’t picking up the message, perhaps students are: Read the rest of this entry »

Is not-for-profit higher education more profitable than for-profit higher education?

Lawrence Cram argues that Australian universities use large surpluses from undergraduate teaching to support research. A similar argument was made in the US last week, in a Cato paper by Vance Fried (really). Fried thinks that the real costs per American undergraduate are between $5,000 and $9,000 a year, quite similar to Cram’s estimate for Australia. He thinks that not-for-profit unis in the US are more profitable than the for-profits, presumably as the former can use their brands to charge higher fees.

Australia’s largest for-profit higher education provider, the Navitas group, is a listed company so their annual report provides some insight into their operations. Indeed, it provides more interesting material than university annual reports. About 30% of Navitas’s revenue from its university programs divisions is earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBIDTA). For a commerce course in 2010 they charged international students about $18,000 a year, and local students $15,400. Presuming similar margins this implies per student underlying costs of between $10,800 and $12,600 per student.

However, they are also paying hefty royalties to universities – typically, Navitas feeder colleges are located on university campuses, and teach the same subjects as the first-year courses at that university, though with smaller classes. The annual report says they paid $131 million to university and consortia partners in 2010, 23% of their total revenues. I’m not sure how much this represents genuine costs for the university (does Navitas pay for the buildings?) and how much of it is essentially a rent they can extract by offering articulation for Navitas graduates. Read the rest of this entry »

The TEQSA mistake

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency legislation passed through the Senate yesterday, and is expected to receive Coalition backing in the House of Representatives. As I seem to be the only person on the public record opposed to TEQSA, for later I-told-you-so purposes here’s a summary of my objections:

(1) It takes higher education standards into the realm of partisan politics. ‘Standards’ on getting a licence to operate as a higher education provider, course accreditation, and general ‘teaching and learning’ will all now be set by one individual, the federal minister. There are processes to ensure the minister largely acts on expert advice, but he/she will appoint the experts, and ultimately I don’t think he/she has to follow the advice.

The current minister insists that he will respect academic freedom, and I don’t disbelieve him. But it is a bit like the Liberals backing the idea of a national curriculum when in government, and then professing to be appalled when Labor later appoints its mates to write it. The problem is creating such a power in the first place. I set out a couple of the scenarios in this Age article.

(2) There is too much centralisation. Even if the experts could set their standards without the minister’s approval, this would still be a problem. Standards are contestable – I wrote another Age article pointing out that draft standards released to date contain some dubious requirements. Read the rest of this entry »