The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee may have changed its name to Universities Australia, but so far at least nothing else seems to have changed. Their recent media releases contain more of the second-rate rent-seeking that has long marred the organisation’s public advocacy.
Last week, in their tradition of ‘good first step’ reactions to government initiatives, they welcomed a small extension of student income support and issued a media release repeating their call for:
“Firstly all scholarships and bursaries (regardless of their source) to be excluded from assessable income for the purpose of student income support; and
“Secondly, a reduction in the age of independence for Youth Allowance from the current 25 years to 18 years over the next term of parliament,”
There is no mention (and nor was there when the proposal was first made in August) of how much these changes might cost, how important this proposal is compared to other higher education spending options (let alone other alternative uses of the money), or other implications of the changes.
As Universities Australia realises, because they have also recently set up a review to look into the continuing relatively low enrolments from low SES background students, university students tend to come from affluent families. There is little case, in my view, for these young people to be eligible for welfare if they are living at home.
And while many people are concerned that the hours students are working might compromise their academic results, policymakers need to keep in mind that university students are actually an important part of the workforce in some industries. Employers will be very unimpressed if students decide to take welfare instead.
As readers may recall, I am not a fan of the many university scholarship programmes driven by status competition between the universities. While I don’t think they should be stopped from offering scholarships, nor do I think they should encouraged by letting students double dip, with scholarships plus welfare if Universities Australia had its way.
“Recent policy announcements by political parties across the spectrum provide welcome recognition of education’s role as a principal driver of economic growth.
“Universities Australia believes that public funding for universities should be viewed as an investment in the nation’s prosperity, not as a short-term cost,” Professor Sutton added.
Universities Australia urges all political parties to support major re-investment in core university teaching, to adequately complement investment from non-government sources.
“This will ensure that Australia continues to produce highly skilled and work ready graduates that will strengthen the Australian economy,” Professor Sutton said.
Actually, the coursework postgraduate market is a case study in how things have become much better since the goverment cut its funding and regulations and left things to supply and demand. Though fee-paying enrolments have slowed down in recent years, that was after double-digit growth rates most years from the mid-1990s to 2003, while undergraduate numbers stalled or even dropped.
And if postgraduates are earning good money, with average starting salaries of $65,000 a year for Masters-degree holders according to Postgaduate Destinations 2006, and are enjoying strong earnings growth according to the ABS, why does anyone need a handout? Far from students needing public funding, most don’t even take out the free-money FEE-HELP loans the government offers them.
Subsidising currently unsubsidised postgraduate coursework would not only be a waste of taxpayers’ money, if it came with regulation like that that goes with undergraduate funding, it would make things worse by unnecessarily restricting growth and causing misallocation of places between disciplines, as occurs for undergraduates.
How ironic it is that the organisation representating universities comes up with such intellectually feeble claims for cash. The only thing that can be said in their favour at this point is that they perhaps realise they have a problem, having appointed public policy academic Glenn Withers as their next CEO. He starts next month. Perhaps Universities Australia should take a vow of silence until he arrives.