Over-education vs over-skilling

As regular readers know, I have long been interested in graduate over-education – graduates who have jobs that typically require lesser qualifications. Using ABS definitions of jobs that normally require university education or equivalent experience, about three-quarters of graduates are appropriately matched with their jobs and about a quarter are over-educated.

However the significance of this has always been open to interpretation, given that some degrees are not taken for vocational reasons, some people may be happy with their jobs, or the situation could be temporary. And we would always expect some level of mismatch so it is hard to know what the benchmark figure for ‘too high’ should be.

A recent study by Kostas Mavromaras and colleagues, using HILDA data, looks at this issue in more depth. It uses a different definition of over-education, that the person has more education than the modal level of education in their job. Among full-time employees, they find 13% over-education among graduates – about half the ABS figure (though to what extent this is due to excluding part-timers, and what extent due to classifying FT jobs differently, I can’t say). Read the rest of this entry »

Finding a cheaper way of delivering higher education

In a sign perhaps that the higher education sector is worn out from seemingly endless reviews, the base funding review received only 161 submissions compared to 353 for the Bradley review.

I’m yet to read more than a fraction of the latest batch (though I think I am safe in predicting that ‘gimme money’ will be the dominant message), but there is at least one interesting submission – from Lawrence Cram, a Deputy VC at ANU, though for reasons that will become apparent the submission is personal rather than institutional.

What Cram does is apply econometric analysis to the expenditure of universities, along with their teaching outputs (as measured by completions) and research outputs (as measured by publications). I will have to wait on people expert in econometrics to judge the value of Cram’s model.

Cram’s finding is that expenditure per completion is around $26,600 and expenditure per publication of $226,600. Figure 2 in Cram’s paper indicates that these represent improved efficiency since 1996. This is plausible, given casualisation of staff and increased class sizes on the teaching side, and the pressures of publish or perish on the research side. Read the rest of this entry »

The SMH’s obsession with people paying for education

What on earth was the SMH doing in reprinting this Guardian diatribe by Terry Eagleton against AC Grayling’s new humanities college, featuring star academics and an £18,000 a year price tag?

Eagleton has himself in such a state about it that he’s throwing every insult he can think of, without worrying too much whether they cohere smoothly. The college is condemned both for being disgustingly elitist and for overcharging for knowledge that could be acquired for the price of a cheap paperback:

Who would pay £18,000 a year to listen to this outdated Victorian rationalism when they could buy themselves a second-hand copy of John Stuart Mill?

Many newspapers have odd obsessions, and the SMH‘s odd obsession is with people paying for education. Though presumably many of its eastern suburbs and north shore readership would never dream of sending their kids to a government school, the SMH leaps on any opportunity to present private schools in a negative light. Private schools are wasteful status competition, in decline (that turned out to be wishful thinking), responsible for white flight, etc. etc. It was one of the most persistent critics of full-fee undergraduate places at Australian universities.

But using scarce opinion page space to condemn a small college 24 hours flying time away seems to take this obsession to ridiculous lengths.

The real academic freedom issue

The government proposes amending the higher education funding legislation to include this provision:

A higher education provider that is a *Table A provider or a *Table B provider must have a policy that upholds free intellectual inquiry in relation to learning, teaching and research. (emphasis added)

This is a curious provision. For a start, it is quite similar to provisions in the draft higher education provider guidlines which will apply to all higher education providers, not just those receiving Commonwealth research funding (tables A and B). It’s more explicit about how these principles will be implemented – a policy of unspecified content as opposed to perhaps just a practice – but doesn’t seem to add much.

But what’s ‘learning’ doing there? The Labor ministers responsible for universities issued a media release today complaining about among other things Coalition talk about extending academic freedom to students, a follow-up to their Senate inquiry into biased left-wing academics. But it seems to me that it is Labor that is opening up the issue of academic freedom for students in the way that it has phrased this provision. Teaching and research is what academics do, but learning is what students do. Read the rest of this entry »

Bureaucratic overkill on campaign finance law

NSW and Queensland have extremely complex campaign finance laws. I think the underlying assumptions – that we need regulation to limit ‘undue influence’ and to ensure the voices of the rich don’t drown out the voices of others – are dubious (explained in detail in my campaign finance paper, finally out today). But let’s grant them for the sake of argument. Is it necessary to have anything like the current campaign finance regimes to move towards these goals?

In NSW, three types of restrictions are imposed: bans on some donors, caps on all donors, and disclosure of all donors over $1,000. Queensland has capping and disclosure. All have their defects (see my paper). But many of them could be avoided if the regime was restricted to capping alone.

For example, even if there was a case for believing that some donors were intrinsically worse than others, if donations are capped at low levels – as they are, $5,000 to political parties, $2,000 to candidates and third parties – they can’t have much influence anyway. Bans are overkill, since the caps alone achieve almost all the original objective of diminishing the influence of groups deemed undesirable. And lifting the bans would save political parties and third parties from the time-consuming task of checking whether donors are legal or not. Read the rest of this entry »

Should the student learning entitlement be abolished?

The higher education funding legislation introduced last week proposes abolishing the student learning entitlement. The SLE caps eligibility for a government-subsidised place at 7 years, though there are various exceptions, including for honours years and postgraduate courses.

According to a story in today’s Higher Education Supplement, the Coalition plans to oppose abolition of the SLE, which was introduced by the Howard government from 2005.

The SLE does generate a lot of bureaucracy in tracking a student’s usage, and in the 7th year since it was introduced we are at the point when universities and students will need to be particularly careful about when a student exhausts their entitlement. Significant confusion about the current rules doesn’t help.

There are also some doubts about how much abolishing SLE would save, since students who have reached their seven years can switch to FEE-HELP to finance their continuing study. As full-fee places are typically more expensive than SLE-supported courses, this could mean that at least in cash terms, the government may outlay more for a student who has exceeded their SLE than one who continues in a Commonwealth-supported place (though they may eventually recover some of their money through HELP repayments). Read the rest of this entry »

How gay is America?

It’s not unusual for pollsters to find that their respondents over-estimate the prevalence of people or things in the news. But I was amazed at this Gallup poll that asked its respondents to estimate the proportion of Americans who are gay.

The mean estimate was around 25%, about seven times the likely real figure, and 150% higher than the commonly cited 10% figure from the long-ago discredited Kinsey report. Only 4% of Americans gave numbers in the correct less than 5% category, and even deeming any answer less than 10% as broadly right we still get to only 13% of Americans giving a correct answer. Even most gay people would have social networks that are more than 75% straight, so these numbers are bizarre.

The 10% figure is still sometimes cited by gay activists to bolster their political case, but other questions in the Gallup survey suggest that perceptions of levels of homosexuality make little difference to political views.


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Legislaton for a semi-demand driven higher ed funding system

Legislaton for the demand-driven higher education funding system was finally introduced into Parliament yesterday, more than two years after it was first announced.

The government’s nervousness about how much it might cost is very evident. It reserves the right to cap how much funding any university can receive, though the cap cannot be less than the previous year. So it will be demand-driven only up to the point that demand is too expensive. It effectively means that there is not actually a student entitlement to a Commonwealth-supported place, as originally envisaged, though in practice few are likely to miss out in the near future.

Nor will universities have complete freedom to respond to demand. There is a capacity to set both minimum and maximum numbers by course, though only medicine is certain to face a cap on numbers. The reason seems plausible enough, a shortage of clinical training places, but previous attempts to regulate medical student numbers are the most commonly-cited reason for moving to voucher system: the government’s 1990s assessment of how many students were needed was hopelessly wrong, and we would have been better off if universities had responded to demand.

So though the system will be called demand-driven, that is true only in a relative sense. Specifying the number of students by university and funding cluster (groups of disciplines with the same Commonwealth funding rates) will end, but the allocation of student places will only be partly and conditionally handed over to the market.

Cracking down on dissent

Today’s media carries two stories about the increasing arrogance and authoritarianism of elements of the political class in dealing with people with contrary views.

In what looks to be linked to a quietly announced parliamentary review of campaign finance, Bob Brown has said that he will move to ban donations from tobacco companies. It’s a continuation of the ‘picking losers’ approach adopted in NSW. My nearly done campaign finance paper says of NSW:

It sets a dangerous precedent: governments legislating to reduce the political options of industries that it dislikes or sees as troublesome or unpopular. ‘Junk’ food manufacturers, retailers, and carbon-intensive industries are the obvious next candidates for such treatment. Rather than picking winners, government picks losers by using its power to politically disable organisations opposed to it and its allies.

Suggesting a very slow news day, The Age leads with a story that Crown casino has appointed former ALP secretary Karl Bitar as a lobbyist.

Populist senator Nick Xenophon was reported as saying Read the rest of this entry »

Where family payments aren’t welfare

John Howard disliked the idea that family payments were ‘welfare’. That’s why they were called ‘family tax benefits’, to emphasise that FTB was giving families back their earned money, rather than giving them a handout. At least for the generation that Howard came from, self-reliance was an important middle class idea.

I’ve never bought this argument. You don’t have to pay tax to get FTB, and indeed it is most generous to those who have no or very low market incomes. It is largely managed by Centrelink, the key institution of the Australian welfare state.

Yet an Essential survey released yesterday suggests that most people take Howard’s view. Welfare should only go to those on low incomes, but family payments aren’t welfare, just help with raising kids (what do they think single mother benefits are?). At least they support cutting benefits at $150,000.

(Apologies for the low-quality image)