Hereditary politics?

In the Australian Election Study 2010 there is a question about the politics of the respondent’s parents. Though the generations don’t share politics as much as spouses, politics is not looking like a major source of division in family get-togethers. Labor politics seems particularly hereditary. About three-quarters of Labor identifiers in 2010 say that their parents were also Labor supporters. 30% of respondents did not know which party their parents supported.

The lower hereditary nature of Liberal politics reflects the well-known generational problems in Liberal support.

Among 2010 Green identifiers, a bit over a quarter have Liberal parents, and a bit under 40% have Labor parents.

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 »

Complicated opinion on refugees

The latest Lowy Poll finds the usual hard-to-interpret results on refugees.

The idea of a queue clearly resonates, as 88% of Lowy’s respondents agreed with the proposition that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are jumping the queue and getting in ahead of other asylum seekers wanting to come to Australia”. On the other hand, 43% agreed that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are often fleeing war and conflict and Australia should give them a chance to set up a new life in a safe country”.

Lawyers have been prominent in the pro-refugee cause, and the way they look at the world may not always have helped politically. How many times have we heard the argument that Australia’s treatment of refugees breaches our “international obligations”? Only 32% of Lowy’s respondents agreed that “ïnternational treaty obligations mean Australia has to accept refugees regardless of how they arrive here”.

By far the most powerful pro-refugee material I have seen was the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From, which screened last week. Politically, stories are far more powerful than treaties.

(click on picture for more refugee polls) Read the rest of this entry »

Why are political mixed marriages rare?

According to the 2010 Australian Election Study, only about 20% of the population are very strong supporters of the party they say they usually support. So political identity doesn’t seem that important for most people. Yet the same survey included a question on the party identification of the respondent’s spouse, and found that most couples share political allegiances (I included the Greens, but with only 72 married Greens in the sample this is less reliable than the other results).

There was also a question on spouse religion, and for the big religious groups that have many respondents – Catholics and Anglicans – 47% of the former and 56% of the latter have spouses from other religions or no religion.

So even though shared religious beliefs would seem more central to harmonious life as a couple, it seems that shared political beliefs are more common.

I haven’t done more work on the AES sample to explore further, but my first hypothesis would be that despite claims that the traditional sociological bases of the major parties have been breaking down, social background and social circumstances are still the fundamental shapers of political allegiances. And because people tend to marry people who are sociologically like themselves, they end up with shared partisan preferences.

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 »

Why aren’t graduates more satisfied with their jobs?

The paper on over-skilling also reports various forms of job satisfaction by qualification level. Counter-intuitively, though many people do a university degree to get a better job, they are less likely to score highly (9 or 10 on a 10 point scale) on most dimensions of job satisfaction than people with other qualifications.

Even on pay, where objectively graduates earn much more on average than people with other qualifications levels, graduates do not have the greatest levels of high satisfaction.



Are graduate jobs not so good after all? Or do graduates’ expectations increase in ways that the real world can rarely match? The options are not mutually exclusive, but I was reminded of Michael Dockery’s research showing that happiness decreases as people move from school/uni into the workforce. For people who are academically inclined, maybe many are never again so well matched with their circumstances as when they are studying.