More bad reasons for reducing HECS

Yesterday’s OECDitis seems to be spreading to the nervous Coalition backbench, with two MPs reported (no link, sorry) in today’s Australian as favouring reduced HECS.

West Australian Liberal Mal Washer made the old argument about HECS being a disincentive, plus one I had not seen before:

The reason for HECS originally was the assumption that people with university degrees have higher incomes. With the construction and mining boom, that is no longer the case. We should reduce it, we need to pull it back.

Like the ALP, Dr Washer is getting rather carried away with the importance of mining and construction. Fewer than one in ten Australian workers are employed in either of these industries. And as I noted last year, the relative income advantage of bachelor-degree graduates has declined only very slightly since 2001 (and may be due only to more able and experienced workers being moved to the postgraduate column).

South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi’s suggestion was no better. He suggested a reduction in HECS for students who undertook volunteer work in the community. But if they are effectively being paid via reduced HECS, it is not volunteer work, is it? And if we are going to pay people to do community work, why not employ the best applicants for the work, rather than the people who happen to have a HECS debt?

Sadly, from the Opposition leader to the government backbench, the higher education ideas offered by our politicians are either obviously daft (like Bernardi’s) or easily discredited (Washer, Rudd).