The Age‘s sub-editors must have concluded that I am not an ‘expert’ on uni funding. In an article this morning Simon Marginson and Barry McGaw said this week’s OECD report Education at a Glance, which reported declining public funding on tertiary education, was ‘reasonably accurate’. However I was reported as saying that ‘tertiary funding had returned to 1995 levels by 2006’. The headline was not however ‘Experts divided on uni funding claims’ but ‘Experts back claims on low uni funding’.
As it happens, I do think the figure quoted in The Age‘s article of a 4% drop between 1995 and 2004 is ‘reasonably accurate’ (it refers to this Excel table in Education at a Glance). Using the ABS Government Finance Statistics publication, based on Commonwealth spending, I get a 2% drop between 1995-96 and 2004-05; the difference with OECD could be using the financial rather than calendar year (there were subsidy increases for 2005) and/or using a different method of adjusting for price changes.
But by 2005-2006 the ABS clearly shows a surge in spending, so that Commonwealth spending is now well ahead (about $600 million) on 1995 levels, plus approximately $1.2 billion more in HECS revenue (my figure, based on DEST data).
A lot of this increase has been in research spending. It’s actually very hard to get a good number for teaching-only spending, because it’s really only since 2005 that such a sum has been clearly identified. Before that there was a more general ‘operating grant’. My best estimate is that over the period 1995-2005 (in $2005) universities have on average improved their total funding for Commonwealth-supported places by about $1,400. That’s made up of an increase in HECS of $2,100 and a reduction in direct subsidy of $700.
Overall, though, the government is right to think that the broken record on funding could be given a rest – or at least the universities need to stop complaining that they are worse off and start providing serious arguments, not just intellectually near-worthless OECD comparisons or vague assertions about under-funding, as to why they should receive more public funding.