The rise but not triumph of the private higher ed providers

According to The Australian, we are seeing a ‘private uni bonanza’. 260 of the 2,300 new university places announced by Julie Bishop yesterday went to private institutions – Avondale College, the University of Notre Dame, Christian Heritage College, and the Tabor Colleges in South Australia and Victoria.

Perhaps more significantly, the extension of FEE-HELP loans to any institution offering accredited higher education courses seems to have produce a surge in their student numbers. All up in the first half of 2006 there were about 21,000 students with government support, either in tuition subsidies or loans, outside the traditional public sector universities (not all of them are at private providers though; there are publicly-owned institutions including TAFEs on the list). That’s nearly twice as many as the year before, compared to enrolment growth of just 1% in the public institutions. Take out the newly-listed institutions, and the non-public university higher ed sector still shows a very respectable 31% growth rate.

Bishop’s allocations and her Department’s statistics highlight how blurred the distinctions between public and private higher education have become. Public universities take fee-paying students and private universities take government subsidised students. Many more students at private institutions take government loans, but are denied tuition subsidies received by people taking similar courses at public universities. The higher education system is just a series of anomalies held together by inertia.

As the Howard government reaches its end, not sorting out the higher education mess must be classed as one of its failures. How sad that possibly the government’s last major higher ed announcement includes the kind of centralised micro-management that ought to be ideological anathema. Does the government really need to tell RMIT to offer 10 places in a Bachelor of Applied Science (Construction Management) course at its city campus? Or the University of Sydney to offer 5 places in a Master of Indigenous Health (Substance Use) course at its Camperdown campus? Even within a centralised funding model, they should just be given the places in the broad discipline funding cluster, which they can then allocate to courses as they see fit.

But better still, scrap the whole allocation process, and let student demand drive the system, with no arbitrary distinctions between public and private providers.

3 thoughts on “The rise but not triumph of the private higher ed providers

  1. Inertia? Why doesn’t Bishop have the guts to properly privatise it all instead of doing it by stealth? The stupid approach she’s using is putting students at risk of the private institutions they are attending being cut off by a (possibly) Labor government rather than giving some kind of certainty. It’s pathetic – the government ought to either have the courage of it’s stated convictions or make some attempts at reforming the issues they see in the public system, not make half-arsed attempts at undermining it with pathetic funding allocations based on whatever favour bank they are running. This is yet another major piece of stupidity in education – no wonder Labor owns it with an invisible shadow minister and no discernable policies.

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  2. David – There is no sign of Labor reversing what Bishop has done. Indeed, though they have said near nothing about what they would do in higher education they have announced an even more funding for the University of Notre Dame than the Coalition is providing.

    They have in the past said that they will keep FEE-HELP, the loans scheme that supports full-fee students – I don’t think I have heard their current Shadow say it but presumably if the Socialist Left Jenny Macklin who was previously the Shadow supports it then Right faction member Stephen Smith will also.

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  3. It looks like Smith is taking the part-nationalisation of the catholic school system as a model for re-integration private education providers. It’s beyond time the election was called so we can see some actual policies instead of this kind of dribbled-out press release guff. Can’t you call someone amongst your old mates and give them a kick in the pants? Howard slid into power with a policy free zone but it’s not exactly edifying to see Labor doing the same thing.

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