Could improved Youth Allowance undermine rural campuses?

An editorial in today’s Age follows on from yesterday’s story about would-be students from regional areas being more likely to defer their university studies to improve their Youth Allowance eligibility.

The editorial draws attention to both the claimed under-funding of regional campuses and the added costs faced by regional students when they have to move to study, calling for an inquiry but effectively suggesting both receive additional Commonwealth resources. Yet there are tensions between improving income support for rural students and helping rural campuses.

I don’t believe that there is any inherent reason why educational delivery costs should be higher in regional areas. The problem seems to be achieving economies of scale by spreading fixed costs over a large number of students. That’s been hard to do for several reasons: low initial population density in regional areas, weak school results limiting the pool of potential applicants, and the preference of many students for study in capital cities.

In Victoria, there is only one truly regional university, the University of Ballarat (though Deakin University has a substantial regional presence, and other universities have rural campuses). The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre provides statistics for each university by the home region of applicants. 35% of applicants to Victorian universities from the Central Highland region where the University of Ballarat is located gave it as their first preference in 2005 for academic year 2006. So about two-thirds of potential local students actually want to go somewhere else – except for Swinburne, applications are spread fairly evenly across the other Victorian universities.

Making it easier for students to move to study by improving income support would increase the problems regional campuses face in holding on to both total numbers and the best students. The 35% market share of first preference applications received by Ballarat presumably includes people who have already decided that studying elsewhere is too expensive given their financial resources and the available income support. Improved income support could let more people attend the institution or take the course that is their real first preference.

In this, there could be a synergy between income support and creating a stronger higher education market. Fewer people would feel constrained to attend universities close to home, rather than the one that suits them best. And hopefully this would trigger changes within universities, creating distinctive strengths that attract people from elsewhere rather than spreading their resources thinly in trying to cater to as many local demands as possible. Of course this needs the other policy changes I have long advocated to make it work.

But it could also exacerbate the problems of regional campuses in achieving economies of scale. Simply giving them larger direct handouts is not the answer, since students are inputs into education as well as customers. The educational experience is not as good if there are few other students around. If maintaining regional campuses is a policy goal (I don’t think it should be, but politically it probably will be) ways are needed to actually attract students. A possibility is a voucher premium for regional campuses, to encourage students to attend.

If campuses cannot attract enough students even with this kind of support then they should not be sustained forever, like the Yes Prime Minister episode about the hospital with no patients.

41 thoughts on “Could improved Youth Allowance undermine rural campuses?

  1. I think another problem that regional universities have is that no-one wants to work in them — so they must offer higher levels (and hence pay) to get the same quality of staff, which they don’t do since they don’t and can’t get the money — so you end up with rather aweful universities which must again detract from going there. In this respect, its no surprise U. Ballarat is the worst place in Victoria.

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  2. Yobbo – But some things are a lot cheaper, such as real estate, which is relevant to how much you need to pay staff to get a given standard of living.

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  3. I know that if I had to support a family on an academic wage, I know for sure that I would prefer to do it somewhere like Ballarat than in one of the capital cities. Many current academics were able to buy property in capital cities before the housing price boom, I suspect in the medium term we might see a “seachange / treechange” phenomenon in academia as younger academics realise that a great way to make their salaries stretch is to move to cheaper regional centres.

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  4. Joel Parsons wrote:
    I suspect in the medium term we might see a “seachange / treechange” phenomenon in academia as younger academics realise that a great way to make their salaries stretch is to move to cheaper regional centres.

    Armidale as an example (compared to Sydney).
    Real estate is cheaper, but there is generally less to choose from and the price difference isn’t as great as you think it might be (i.e. an $85,000 house may not be in a bit of town you want to live). Also, the housing stock tends not to be in as good condition as turnover is much lower. Council rates here are fairly expensive. Good houses in good spots are still fairly pricey.
    Electricity and groceries are more expensive. Petrol is more expensive. Clothing/hardware/cars and the rest are pretty much identical to cities.
    The major difference in cost of living is in transport (you spend far less time getting to work and far less money) e.g. my weekly fuel bill for both adults was over $100 a week, now it’s $20. The mortgage for us is quite a bit cheaper although we know other tree-changers to have the same mortgage they used to have but a bigger or better house (foolish in my view).
    Other things: schools tend to be smaller, this can be a real advantage or a real liability depending on luck. Private schools are abundant here and just as bad as the city ones (i.e. they share the same misallocation of resources centred around prestige building rather than education).
    If you have a family, I highly recommend ditching the city if you can find work in a college town.

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  5. Andrew, I’m going to bet against your guess that people will move to aweful places because they are cheaper. This is because:
    a) There are not many young academics in many fields (perhaps most), and there will be more demand due to demographics. City based universities with more money will work out how to get them first — just like they do in other expensive cities in the world.
    b) It is easier to move overseas than interstate for many people (basically the OS university pays everything), and there is great demand from OS universities for young staff. This means most good staff have better offers in higher paying nicer places. Even half-reasonable people in their fields get offers — you just need to write a few good papers, go to a conference and talk to people.
    c) Academia is not such a good job that many people couldn’t find better ones. For young academics, even things like the public service pay similarly.
    David Rubie — are you an Australian? College towns don’t exist in Australia in the same way they do in the US.

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  6. Conrad – There are no many young academics because few junior permanent academic vacancies come up relative to the number of PhDs being graduated. That’s been a fundamental problem for many years, the full consequences of which will become evident as the boomers retire.

    I’m not saying people will move, just that insofar as money is a major consideration regional universities can offer more disposable income for the same salary rate.

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  7. I’m not in disagreement with your statement Andrew — I’m just in disagreement that this makes anysignificant difference to getting staff, and henceforth that country universities will still need to pay more for the same level of personell. This is a problem of highly educated workers across the board. People don’t want to work in these places for many reasons (where can you find a good high-school in Bathhurst, for instance?). For example, if you want to work in a crappy place in Queensland, and you are a doctor, you can earn bundles (much more than comparitively expensive Brisbane) — and there is a reason for that.

    You can look at this on a practical level.
    1) None of the country universities in Australia is doing very well (broadly defined, versus just breaking even with money — like the type of criterion students use to choose universities).
    2) The “outpost” campuses of the big universities, many which exist only for political reasons anyway, are never even close to the quality of the main universities. (think e.g., La Trobe – Bendigo, Swinburne – Lilydale, Monash – Gippsland, etc.).

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  8. Adding to Conrad’s comment – more and more academics are going to the middle-east. Tax-free US dollar salaries are calling. A few years ago you never heard of people going. In the last 18 months I can think of five from my faculty who went to Dubai etc.

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  9. If you have a family, I highly recommend ditching the city if you can find work in a college town.

    Maybe in the US. Once you move outside of Australian state capital cities you’re in the boondocks (including Hobart).

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  10. conrad wrote:
    David Rubie — are you an Australian? College towns don’t exist in Australia in the same way they do in the US.

    and Sinclair wrote:
    Once you move outside of Australian state capital cities you’re in the boondocks (including Hobart).

    Crikey you people are small minded. It’s not like we can’t get the internet and our neighbours are rednecks. On our small street, over half the residents including us moved here from cities (Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Perth again, Sydney). When your commute is five minutes, it hardly matters that your restaurant choices are more limited. It’s also nice to have friends you have time for and aren’t necessarily associated with work, where the school is a short stroll away and you can be in the healthy outdoors in your lunch break. Is it a US style college town? Not in a US movie kind of way, but many of the same benefits are here and in other rural towns where there are universities.

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  11. David

    College towns are way different from anything you an imagine here.

    College towns in a lot of instances exist simply to support the college.

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  12. “Crikey you people are small minded”
    Its funny that you should say that, but this is one of the reasons that country universities will never get good staff. The reason is obvious in case you aren’t a white stereotype (and god help you if you are an Arab, a homosexual, like to read, don’t like footy, don’t like doing donuts in cars etc.). Here it is:
    1) The majority of staff in many disciplines come from non-English speaking countries, since Australia just doesn’t produce good engineers etc., or at least those that it does move to the US, earn more money in private industry etc.
    2) As far as I can tell (and god knows, I’ve been harassed enough in them), the majority of small country towns in Australia are full of small minded redneck idiots. Its hard to think of places on Earth with higher concentrations of them.
    3) Redneck idiots hassle non-whites and anyone else deemed harassable (including their children).
    4) Its therefore no suprise that non-whites et al. henceforth don’t move to redneck idiot ville. This of course is not just for academia — its true of other many other disciplines too (the obvious one being medicine).

    So next time you complain about not being able to get services in small Australian country towns (like doctors) — as you yourself do from time to time, you can at least in part thank Australian dickhead culture. You can also try and imagine all the people like me that think you probably deserve it (perhaps you yourself don’t, but stereotypes work both ways).

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  13. I did spend time in Stillwater, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State University. For a town of 40,000 they were very enlightened. Having been to country Victoria, I can’t really say the same. Conrad speaks of them harrassing non-whites, I don’t know, but even having a non-Australian accent is enough to get ‘the looks’ going.

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  14. conrad wrote:
    The majority of staff in many disciplines come from non-English speaking countries
    This happens at the UNE, quite a lot in fact. There are plenty of arabs, indonesians, africans and aboriginal academic staff here (some by secondment, some employed).
    So next time you complain about not being able to get services in small Australian country towns (like doctors) — as you yourself do from time to time, you can at least in part thank Australian dickhead culture. You can also try and imagine all the people like me that think you probably deserve it (perhaps you yourself don’t, but stereotypes work both ways).
    I have never complained about access to doctors – they are excellent here, as is the local hospital. I’m not sure exactly what “I deserve” at all. Got something specific in mind?

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  15. “Adding to Conrad’s comment – more and more academics are going to the middle-east. Tax-free US dollar salaries are calling. A few years ago you never heard of people going. In the last 18 months I can think of five from my faculty who went to Dubai etc.”

    The sister of a friend worked in the UAE for years. I see many job ads for middle east jobs (eg in the UAE/Qatar) – the only prob is the extreme social conservatism – it’s not for me.

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  16. Here’s an excersize for you David, just to show you the strength of the problem, and to show why your example of ethnic diversity at UNE is a bit of mirage. Choose any town that people like me think might be better removed from the map. The worst stereotype I can think of is Ipswitch. Now go to the yellow pages, and look at the names of the general practitioners. There are over 200 in Ipswitch. Look at the names. See if you can find a single Asian or Indian one. I count perhaps 1 (and they might forced there via immigration rules — not that I tried hard or got through all the names)
    Now go to any medical school, and count the number of Chinese and Indian doctors. You will count about 50%.
    Why does all of this matter? Because what it shows is that CHinese and Indians don’t move to places like this for reasons like I described. Because they are now aound half the medical pool, this means that the people retiring in Ipswitch and other such horrible places are not going to get replaced since the pool has effectively been divided in 2 — you can try and estimate how many there should be there if there was no social-out group effect. My lower bound must be at least 10% (obviously there are turn-over times, and Chinese & Indians haven’t always become such a big group in the medical system).
    So next time you hear people in the country (especially Ipswitch) complain about not having enough doctors (etc.), it isn’t just because there aren’t enough, its just governements don’t like to mention factors like this.

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  17. conrad wrote:
    Why does all of this matter? Because what it shows is that CHinese and Indians don’t move to places like this for reasons like I described.
    You don’t think it has anything to do with a preference for city living based on income? I tried your example with Queens Councils and have come to the conclusion that law firms are the most racist places of employment in Australia.

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  18. SD and Sacha: There are lots of places that have low tax rates that are good to live (or at least I think they’re fine — much better than the Middle East). Many places in Asia — Hong Kong and Singapore come to mind (Taiwan too I think), and some areas of the US (I believe that tax rates differ tremendously depending on the area apparently — although I could be wrong — in any case, you get paid much more if you can get into the good universities). If you willing to trade off zero tax with a rate of around 20% (with very reasonable salaries), these are good options.

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  19. conrad, your example also doesn’t cover the massive increase in specialised medical practitioners compared to GP’s, which could easily account for the differences. See this

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  20. David, we can argue forever over whether country towns are racist (or perhaps anti-everything is a better description, given the other negative indicators like suicide rates of teenage males etc.) dumps, and I can come up with so many examples (some quantitative) that people vote with their feet it is hardly worthwhile. If you don’t believe me, try dressing up a bit as a disliked social stereotype (say, look a bit camp), or take one of you Arab friends out to the pub (especially females wearing headscarfs), and see how many minutes it takes before you get abused.
    SD: I’m not sure why you’d want to move to Sydney anyway — Melbourne is a much better place than Sydney for living anyway.

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  21. Sacha – people flock there already. In the summer the pollution is shocking. I recall several years ago, when I still smoked, coughing and spluttering from the poor quality air (it hadn’t rained for a few weeks). The cigarettes were clearing out the pollution from the air I breathed.

    Conrad – why would anyone go to Sydney? Job oppourtunities.

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  22. The doctor who delivered me at Katanning hospital (Southern Wheatbelt, WA) was one Dr. Wong. In 1976.

    That town’s dentist is now a Dr Stephen Tang.

    Dr Wong is still my GP, he now has a practice in Subiaco.

    You can’t get more “redneck” than Katanning. People in country areas would cut off their right arm for ANY doctor, even if they were from Mars.

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  23. If you don’t believe me, try dressing up a bit as a disliked social stereotype (say, look a bit camp), or take one of you Arab friends out to the pub (especially females wearing headscarfs), and see how many minutes it takes before you get abused.

    I met my Taiwanese girlfriend in Dumbleyung (my hometown, population 300) where she was working on a tree farm, planting trees.

    Once again, you have no idea what you are talking about. There are plenty of non-anglo people in Country areas. Katanning (total population 4000) has 350 Muslims from Christmas Island who work at the Halal Abbatoir there. They never experience any trouble with the locals.

    Conrad is the bigot, his generalisations about “rednecks” are far worse than anything you could read about immigrants.

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  24. You can believe that if you like Yobbo (I’m sure people do want ANY doctor, but then thats a sign of neccesity, not choice). I know you have some strange and rather incorrect belifes — I seem to remember you saying that the English and Romans were the only two decent civilizations a few weeks ago, which apart from being a smear on the Romans, isn’t exactly an accurate view of history (I’ll blame the WA education system — perhaps we don’t have enough people with Arts degrees after-all). Have you forgotten the percentage of the vote Hanson got?
    I double dare you to do the above.

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  25. I’m sure people do want ANY doctor, but then thats a sign of neccesity, not choice

    Hey conrad, notice how scarcity of doctors is able to overcome prejudice. Pretty good, hey? Shows that there can be a cost to racism that many aren’t willing to pay.

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  26. Conrad, one of my best friends is an Indian muslim and he comes to the pub with me all the time. He is married to a white girl from Kojonup, whose redneck farmer parents went insane and refused to allow them marry think he’s the best thing since sliced bread.

    AFL footballer Peter Bell (also from Kojonup) is Korean in case you hadn’t noticed. He was adopted by bigoted redneck farmers and is universally despised Kojonup’s pride and joy.

    You are really just talking out of your butthole. Your knowledge of rural Australia is pretty obviously based purely off bigoted stereotypes.

    There isn’t a great deal of ethnic diversity in rural Australia, but that isn’t due to racism, it’s that the only people who want to go to Rural Australia are the people who were born there. If you don’t have relatives/friends living there, rural Australia is a dusty, boring, dry and horrible place.

    THAT is the reason it’s hard to recruit doctors/teachers/scientist, not because they are worried about being set upon by skinheads. Grow a brain please.

    If country people look at foreigners funny, it’s usually because they are curious. I grew up in the country and I never saw an Arab or African person until I was 17 and moved to the big city. So yeah, I probably stared once or twice. I stared the first time I saw snow too, y’know?

    Have you forgotten the percentage of the vote Hanson got?

    You say that as if Pauline Hanson was Adolf Hitler. Hanson’s policies were no worse than the National Party’s.

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  27. I know you have some strange and rather incorrect belifes — I seem to remember you saying that the English and Romans were the only two decent civilizations a few weeks ago

    Link to my comment or you made it up.

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  28. Christmas In Dumbleyung:

    OH MY GOD, IT’S A VERITABLE RACE RIOT, WHITES ON ONE SIDE, ASIANS ON THE OTHER! WHY CAN’T THEY JUST INTERMINGLE?

    OH NOES, THE RACIST AUSTRALIAN IS TORTURING THE POOR IMMIGRANT GIRL WITH A RAZOR-CLAWED YABBIE.

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  29. Yobbo,

    The post you said it on was one on Catallaxy basically calling Persians stupid (obviously thats why they can still make nuclear weapons after losing 150k of their scientists in Iran alone). Adriensworld then laughs at you for it.
    Also — I don’t think _all_ Australian country towns are a dump (Natimuk in Victoria comes to mind — its full of climbers) — and for some reason WA is better than many other places (especially NSW and Queensland), so your town may be the exception, but not the rule. Its just the probability of getting hassled. I think its worse in bigger than small towns because larger numbers of young-adult males can congregate (I presume the smarter ones move to the city). Like I say, think of commonly harassed minority groups (adolescent gay males), and looked at their social statistics. You might also like to consider yourself here too — young Australians (school-age) hassle each other a lot, and anybody different will get hassled (i.e., you). In case you are different because of your looks (not you), the probability you will get hassled is 100%. Why would people want their children to put up with that? In big cities, you can go to schools where your children are not the minority, even if you are minority group.
    “Hanson’s policies were no worse than the National Party’s”
    I wouldn’t insult my own intelligence by paying any attention to the National party, but I’ll assume you are correct. Please substitute National party for Hanson.

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  30. Conrad, rednecks are so racist, the really hate white women, that’s why they go to Thailand for hoiday or get themselves Phillipino pen pal brides.

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  31. Conrad, continually paraphrasing someone I apparently said isn’t the same as linking to my comments.

    I think I remember you saying that you like raping babies somewhere, can’t remember the exact words but it was something like that.

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  32. I remember the comment very well Conrad. The point is, you took it way out of context and paraphrased it to the point where it was just meaningless.

    If you think my beliefs are so “wrong” perhaps you could name a place you would have rather lived in 100 BC than Rome?

    My guess is that a nomadic community in Northern Australia wouldn’t make the shortlist.

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  33. That’s a pretty easy to question to answer Yobbo. You might like to ask your girlfriend about the Han dynasty, which is probably a simpler answer.

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  34. My girlfriend is from Taiwan and doesn’t even know who Chiang Kai-Shek was, so I doubt she’d be much help. You’d get more out of her if you asked her who will be Australia’s next top model.

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