From University of Sunshine Coast VC Paul Thomas came a variation on that old favourite of protectionists, the infant industry argument, except his infant institutions would be approaching middle age before they could face competition:
younger universities needed to be given the same opportunity as their Go8 counterparts to build up over decades.
So a generation of students should miss out on choice in the (unlikely) hope that the University of Sunshine Coast can become like the University of Queensland. But why should USC be like UQ? It is one of the mysteries of Australian higher education that universities would rather open themselves to ridicule as implausible would-be research institutions than be good teaching and regional institutions.
From (somewhat surprisingly) Greg Craven of Curtin University comes the same preoccupation with university hierarchy:
“At the end of the day it is a prescription to make richer and powerful institutions even richer and more powerful, with very grave consequences for the sector as a whole,” said Curtin University of Technology deputy vice-chancellor Greg Craven.
Given the lack of price sensitivity shown by Australian students, almost all institutions would probably increase their income under the proposal. Curtin in particular has shown entrepreneurial flair. DEST’s student enrolment statistics show that it has the second-largest number of international enrolments in the country. Yet its worry is that if the Group of Eight get to increase their prices the most, they may move further ahead in the research rankings. This is the kind of argument that Bruce Chapman makes. But what should drive public policy, the status obsessions of academics or the interests of students?
That academics are so heavily oriented towards their status preoccupations adds to the case for a market-driven system to balance the incentive structures. They want to take students for granted so that they can focus on their other concerns. Governments should not let them.