Is the review of the Nelson reforms pointless?

Can a review that rules out the only possible solutions to the problems it identifies do any good? That’s the question we face with the first phase of a review of the Nelson reforms announced by the government yesterday.

This part of the review is of the ‘funding clusters’, the dozen discipline groupings that determine how much universities receive for each student place they provide. The total is a combination of the Commonwealth contribution and the student contribution.

Even within the inherent constraints of a centrally planned system this is a mess. The amounts for each cluster have their origins in the ‘relative funding model’ used in the early 1990s to equalise funding between the universities and the old Colleges of Advanced Education (now known as ‘Dawkins universities’) when the distinctions between them were abolished. This was not a costing exercise; it was an examination of historical expenditure. Each discipline was to receive a multiple of a base amount. For example, law places received the base amount, and medicine places 2.7 times that.
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