Another ‘free education’ puzzle

The next issue of Policy is going to run a series of short articles by CIS researchers on social policy myths. I’m writing about the myth that university charges deter students from low-income backgrounds, one which our new leader believes. There is the associated belief that Whitlam’s free education opened the university system. In December 2006 I reported on our now PM and Deputy PM on this subject:

According to Rudd, he “was inspired to improve the quality of and access to education because he was the first member of his family to attend university, largely because of the Whitlam government’s free tertiary education policies.”

Julia Gillard was reported as saying, “…courtesy of the Whitlam government, I then went to university and obtained two degrees. I fear that it is harder today for a girl from a working class background to make that journey than when I was young.”

In a book chapter published last year, ACER researchers Gary Marks and Julie McMillan analysed data from a dozen social surveys conducted between 1984 and 2001 with questions about both the respondent’s education level and his or her parents’ occupational group. Consistent with previous research, they found that working class people in the ‘free education’ cohort born between 1960 and 1969 had much lower rates of university qualification than the HECS cohort born after 1970 (though the oldest in that group would have had at least some free university education).

Though that was unsurprising, something else did seem odd: the 1960-69 free education group had lower overall rates of degree achievement (9.1%) than people born between 1950 and 1959 (11.4%), even though only those born in 1957 or later could have enrolled as school leavers in the Whitlam free education period from 1974 onwards. Surely a sampling error? I looked at ABS Transition from Education to Work 1994, which finds higher numbers and a narrowing gap but the same pattern: the older group on 16.3% attainment and the younger on 14.7%.

There are always mature-age students at universities, and so all-other-things being equal we’d expect older generations to be slightly more educated at any given time than younger generations, but with catch-up going on as they age. And indeed that does seem to have been the case. I collated data from the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2003 and 2005 and the Australian Election Survey 2004 and found that the free-education generation had indeed edged slightly ahead: 28.3% to 27.1%. ABS Education and Work 2004 finds the same pattern but with lower overall numbers: 22% to 21.6%.

But surely the Whitlam years weren’t all-other-things equal, even allowing for the mythology surrounding that time? Whitlam was expanding higher education funding, but it seems that the initial period of free education probably left the 1960-69 cohort less university-educated than people ten years older.

What explains this puzzle? Unfortunately enrolment numbers from the 1960s and 1970s aren’t great, due to the on-going adding in of students in colleges to the longer-term university statistics. But what I think probably happened was that, for the 1950s generation, higher education places grew more quickly relative to population than the 1960s generation, meaning that they had more opportunities as young people to acquire a degree. As places became more readily available in the HECS era the 1960s generation have caught up with the 1950s generation, and the two cohorts will finish with similar degree-holding rates. Both are well-behind the 1970-79 generation, and will end up even further behind as the mature-age students of that cohort acquire their qualifications.

It’s a reminder of the trade-offs to be made when financing higher education. At any given time, the government funds available to higher education are limited, and the more that is spent on tuition subsidy the less there is available to expand the number of places. With Wayne Swan now telling universities that there won’t be any new money, Labor’s proposal to cut HECS for maths and science will burn money that could have been spent expanding access.

In most respects, thankfully, Kevin Rudd is no Gough Whitlam. But in higher education he looks like repeating, on a smaller scale, the mistakes of his predecessor.

41 thoughts on “Another ‘free education’ puzzle

  1. Andrew, what about the possibility that the university completion rate fell when free education was introduced – ie students benefitting from zero tuition fees had a lower opportunity cost of bludging?

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  2. Rajat – I can’t think of a data source that would prove this, but it is possible. However, there are other factors working against it, as you could drop out of uni in the late 1960s and early 1970s and still easily get a job, but that wasn’t so true of the mid-1970s to late 1980s period.

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  3. you can write as many papers on it as you want, I wont believe it and can’t.

    Someone say from a low socioeconomic background in central rural NSW can’t possibly afford to go to ANU unless on a fully paid scholarship and working full time in the area.

    I don’t know how a scholarship works but HECS is mostly fine as it can be deferred but all those other costs are simply unaffordable

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  4. Andrew,

    I think you should be more clear about up-front versus HECS style charges. I think its pretty clear up-front charges do deter students at some level (just look at the US). How could they not? It might also be worthwhile looking at different groups. I can imagine that the post-graduate market is really quite different to the under-graduate one, especially because people in the post-graduate market generally know what they want but don’t neccesarily have parents to pay for it all.

    Thanks for getting me to read that Wayne Swan article. It reminded me I should be trying to get a new job sooner rather than later.

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  5. Andrew – times change, you’re not comparing like with like when you produce figures for this decade and that.
    It’s not surprising more and more people were choosing to go to uni … I suspect there were lots more jobs that came to need a degree, and new types of jobs that needed uni qualifications. That started to change expectation about careers, and more people felt they had to go to uni. Not many school leavers these days will become typists and bank tellers.

    I’m not surprised we 1950s baby-boomers were more conscientious at finishing uni – we were just finishing when the “do-your-own-thing” hippie philosophy washed over Australia at the same time it became much easier to drop out and live on the dole.

    You still go on about the ‘myth’ of Whitlam opening up universities despite any number of intelligent Australians telling you that what he did changed what they thought was possible for them. Some of it might be romantic nostalgia for Gough’s revolution, but it would be silly to not consider all these statements as some sort of evidence that Gough’s free universities changed the Australian mindset about who should and could go to university.

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  6. Conrad – Yes, I am assuming income-contigent loans. The point, however, is that there are two ways of dealing with credit-constrained students, (a) paying their costs or (b) lending them the money. The interesting thing is that (b) doesn’t seem to reduce numbers (perhaps because most students still get some of (a) as well, though progressively cutting how much has had no discernible effect on enrolment).

    Russell – Yes, that is the main reason why demand for university increased, and the reason why HECS is not a deterrent, ie the benefits outweigh the costs. But there was more demand for graduates from the 1960s cohort than the 1950s cohort, yet it was the older group that proved more likely to get a degree while young.

    Vee – If true, these on-cost factors must have been reasonably constant over time to have had no effect on the overall enrolment patterns. Given the increased availability of part-time jobs, they are perhaps less significant now than in the past.

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  7. Andrew – they’re two different worlds: growing up in the 1950s was like growing up in a straitjacket compared to the 1960s (not that I’m envious of my 7 years younger brother!).
    You didn’t feel you had ‘options’ like dropping out of university; ‘travel’ became an option during the 70s and young people took off, youth wages were higher, the dole was easier to get, my other other hero (Jim Cairns) was going on about self-actualisation – he may even have ‘dropped-out’ while Treasurer of the country!) ….

    When you say that HECS is not a deterrent because the benefits outweigh the costs, you may be increasingly correct because the population has been more trained to think that way. It’s not the way most working class people thought 50 years ago – most parents, like mine, expected their children to get a job, or apprenticeship, and more or less support themselves when they left school. They were thinking about now, not when.

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  8. “Yes, that is the main reason why demand for university increased, and the reason why HECS is not a deterrent, ie the benefits outweigh the costs” [and Russell]

    That might be one reason. However, it would be really interesting to know what proportion of school leavers actually even consider this (versus people who come back some years later). My bet is that they are certainly in the minority. Even smaller would be ones that consider the oppurtunity cost in terms of time taken. It seems to me that many of the kids in university are simply there because there is a social expectation for them to go to university (whether from their peer groups, families, or others), and that this happens to correlated with postive outcomes. I assume that this is one of the reasons that, excluding a few money printing courses (like medicine), demand is not well correlated with future salaries as far as I’m aware.

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  9. Russell/Conrad – My view is that most students are making reasonably good demand-side decisions. Yes, they often change courses and/or universities, but they know that a university education on average gives them access to more interesting, higher status and better-paid work. Though I have written about ‘over-education’, at any given time 75% of graduates are in jobs suitable for graduates, and for many of those who are not the situation is likely to be either temporary or voluntary. I’m all for attempts to better inform would-be uni students, but their current decision-making heuristics are serving them reasonably well.

    Russell – Of course you are right that the 1950s were different, but people adapt. Bright and diligent working class kids find the ways to get ahead suitable to their times; back then it was probably leaving school at year 10 or 11 and working their way up through an organisation, now it is going to university.

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  10. @ Rajat
    “All university education in Sweden is tuition free” – University of Goteburg website http://www.gu.se/english/education/university_studies/

    Often people forget about the Nordic countries when making unfounded and/or hysterical statements about social democratic policies such as free tertiary education. So Rajat, I have to thank Sweden for providing a real life experiment of your hypothesis that free education leads to lower completion rates and laziness. Actually the facts show that the opposite is true. Swedish tertiary completion rates are higher than their European counterparts. Furthermore, they have a higer proportion of citizens with tertiary qualification than the European average. Maybe this is why Andrew stated that there probably isn’t any data to prove your idea. Anyhow, Sweden’s results make complete sense, which is why neoliberals are vehemently opposed to such policies and have felt the need to construct elaborate theories in an attempt to disprove them.

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  11. “Bright and diligent working class kids find the ways …”

    some of them do, but why should it be harder for them because they’re poorer? It’s much harder to go through uni trying to support yourself compared to those who are supported by parents. Is it possible today, if you’re accepted into a uni course, to pay living costs, books/computer etc without working?

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  12. Simmo -There is no data on completion rates for Sweden; OECD’s Education at a Glance omits both Sweden and Australia for insufficient data. However, their overall rate of graduates in the population is slightly lower than Australia’s.

    However, I think you are right that Sweden does tend to be an exception. It has high affordability (ie it is free) and high accessibility (ie there are more places than average for the OECD). Generally, we see a trade-off between the two, as I think occurred in Australia in the free education period.

    We also tend in the OECD to see a trade-off between accessibility and completion rates (where we have data on both). Countries with lower accessibility ration places to the most able students, giving them high completion. Based on this, I would predict that if Australia and Sweden had data they would have below-average completion.

    If Rajat’s theory is right, I expect it is at the margins, with academic ability and job market factors being more important.

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  13. simmo,

    if you think Sweden’s results make complete sense, then my recommendation is you substitute in “France” where you put “Sweden” and then see what conclusion you come to.

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  14. There’s no doubting that sweden punches above its weight when it comes to innovation and technology. Does free tertiary education contribute to this? I don’t know. But what you can be sure of is that the pursuit of social democratic policies in the Nordic countries have not left them impoverished. In fact their policy agenda has been hugely successful. Granted sweden have elected a conservative govt (btw, conservative in sweden is still significantly to the left of the ALP). Also granted that sweden has a largely homogenous population, which seems to make collectivism more politically acceptable than in say Australia.

    @ conrad
    Policy agendas that sweden have pursued are different to that of france. Notice that i didn’t promote French policies. but anyways, Jeff Sachs has produced a good paper comparing the Nordic model to Anglo-American model and the European model. You can down load it here:

    Click to access Sachs-TheNordicModelinComparativePerspective.pdf

    Conrad, even if sweden’s policies don’t make sense to you, you can’t doubt their success. Sweden has had its problems for sure, but they have it better than most at the end of the day.

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  15. Simmo,

    I don’t doubt the success of the Nordic countries are successful, and part of this is due to good policies for the cultural situation (excluding Norway, which I could imagine could have almost any policy and still be fine) and probably moreso the people themselves. Alternatively, whether it is going to last indefinitely would be really my long term concern. I could also point out all the socialist countries of the region that haven’t been so successful, some of which are going to go broke if they don’t do anything (like where I work now and then — in France). I might also point out that as far as I’m aware, the policies of France are not a whole lot different to the Nordic countries (free childcare, education, social security etc.), so it isn’t clear to me what the main things are that are making the real difference. My bet is that there are big culutural differences that allow some policies to work in some places and not others.
    On this note, as far as I can tell, Australians have a strong tendency towards being anti-intellectual dickheads (just look at how much teachers get blamed for everything even though those that actually do the teaching are really responsible for almost none of the problems). Just to go on about this , here’s an another example of people’s priorities: I’m sure most Australians know who Shane Warne is, but very few know who Howard Florey is, despite a few billion of us being on Earth because of him (try asking people on the street). This leads me to suspect that even if you could transplant, say, Sweden’s legistlation to Australia, I doubt it would work. In addition, I doubt the majority of people actually care that the education system is falling to bits in Australia (they just want it for free).
    THe other real difference is that Australia is also in competion with a different group of countries. That includes trade and human capital. Its much simpler, for example, for Australians to move OS than Swedes due to language/cultural differences. Having high taxes in places like Australia basically encourages the top echelon of people to move OS (as they do already), whereas the same group is likely to be more stuck in places like Sweden (whether mentally or linguistically) and certainly so in France.

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  16. Conrad – Though as many Swedes speak excellent English their opportunities for working overseas must be high.

    While I agree that culture matters, the institutions of the Swedish welfare state have surely helped them avoid the welfare-fostered social pathology evident elsewhere. For example, they have been good at minimising ‘passive welfare’.

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  17. 1) I’ve no doubt that’s true Andrew, but I think language is only one factor in the equation. There are other obvious things, like countries accepting each others degrees, of which the Anglosphere allows the biggest block for worldwide mobility. There are less obvious factors too. At least on the French/Australian comparison (for which I do have reasonable sample), if I look my French friends, most of whom speak very good English, none would consider emmigrating permanently, but if I look at my Australian friends, many can, would and do move (let alone kiwis!). THe only big block that emmigrates from France which the government complains about are young business professionals, even though the scientists, doctors, and so on get payed considerably less than here (let alone the UK or US). I’d been interested if anyone knew of a discussion about this with respect to Sweden.
    2) People always comment that the Nordic countries differ from some of the other EUropean ones in terms of minimising ‘passive welfare’. However, it isn’t at all clear to me that this has a big effect. Again, I point to Sweden vs. France here. If I just took the French-French vs. Arab-African-French, then their unemployment rate would in fact be as low as anywhere else. You can calculate this through (the French government certainly won’t for you!).
    The current unemployment rate is around 8.5%. I’ll just assume everyone works to make the calculations easy and that France has population of 60 million people. This gives 5.1 million unemployed (divide by 2 for close to the real figues). However, I’ll assume 15% of the French population is non-French-French and that they have super high uemployment rates. Lets assume 25%. That gives 2.25 million unemployed non French-French. If I now calculate the unemployment rate of the French-French from those left over. I get around 5.6%. That’s no big deal. Thus what is driving up French unemployment rates is not just the welfare policies, its the problem of dealing with endemically difficult groups. These groups have high unemployment almost every, no matter what the welfare policies, its just that France happens to have more of them than most countries.

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  18. Point taken, though the Swedes did seem to have a reasonable share of the pie for a country with a small base population. Most of the Swedes I’ve ever met I met in England, and often you would not know that English was their second language unless they told you.

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  19. Just going back to simmo (at 10): I’m not sure what you mean by saying that “Sweden’s results make complete sense”. Even if the data did show Sweden has higher completion rates than elsewhere, I’m not sure why it ‘makes sense’ for people to take education more seriously when it is free. In Australia at least, you hear much less about people mucking around and dropping/changing courses than you did 10 or 20 years ago, when HECS was lower or non-existent. This is not to say that finding what interests one is unimportant, but that such experimentation has a cost and if that cost is borne solely by the taxpayer, chances are it will be inefficiently high. If Sweden does have higher completion rates than other countries, I suggest it would be in spite of, rather than because of, the absence of fees.

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  20. @ conrad
    With regards to the sweden v france comparison: Sachs notes that the main difference between the Nordic model and the euro model is that taxes are higher in the former allowing them to pay for their expenditure without incurring significant debt. The Euro model sits in the middle of the anglo and the nordic model. Sachs suggests that they are torn between the two – ie they provide generous government benefits but do not generate the income to pay for these. Maybe Sarkozy can do something about this (when he’s not womanising that is!). They either slash government spending or raise taxes. I’m quessing Sarkozy will go for the latter option. But this will create unnecessary turmoil and social instability. Increasing taxes Nordic style will allow them maintain stability and generous govt, which is at the heart of european social democracy. In any case, we are talking as if France is the equivalent of sub saharan africa. It is amongst the richest countries in the world and i don’t its going to completely implode any time soon – if at all.

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  21. The high taxes of the Nordic countries of course mean that the difference between there and here for paying for uni education isn’t as large as it might look at first glance. Both countries pay through the tax system, but here there is a specific extra component marked as higher education and there it is blurred into overall high tax rates.

    Because here you eventually pay off your HECS costs, higher ed is likely to be a better investment compared to Sweden, even though it has no direct tuition costs. OECD Education at a Glance puts their rate of return for university education for men at 8.9%, which is fairly low. I haven’t seen a recent Australian calculation (and OECD does not provide one) but previous studies have found around 14% on average. Higher HECS since would push that down, but lower marginal tax rates would push it up. I’m not sure what the net effect would be.

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  22. While I’m not 100% sold on the idea of free tertiary education, I firmly believe that students need more support during their years studying so they don’t have to take a part time job (thus taking the focus off their studies) to supplement the pittance they get through Youth Allowance (which is below the poverty line).

    It can’t be said that this would lead to a problem of bludging that we don’t already have; there are students who get the fortnightly payment and skip classes only to drop out after getting a year’s worth of welfare for no work. There are already time limits on how long one can receive payments and unperforming students are excluded from their courses. What this would do is free up the menial jobs done by students and allow a larger slice of the adult population to take these jobs (even if they’re menial and pay minimum wage it’s certainly better than the dole) while simultaneously allowing students to focus on their studies.

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  23. A lot of students probably take jobs that pay below the minimum wage to get by. The problem is not that there is a shortage of these positions to go around; the problem is that low-skilled workers have more comfortable lifestyles available to them through the welfare system. The CIS has recently published an excellent Issues Analysis on this topic by Peter Saunders.

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  24. “But they won’t be restricted by lecture timetables.”

    But I would have thought most students work during the so-called unsocial hours (evenings, weekends), rather than during the normal business day. And they work the extra shifts that are not easily covered by full-time workers.

    While I think there are many problems with the design of student payments in Australia (most particularly the overly tight targeting to parental income), I think the general model whereby students receive part of their income from the state and part of their income from their own efforts is a pretty good one. We could have an argument about how exactly to strike the right balance (probably slanted a bit too far against students at the moment), but that is a different discussion.

    In addition, I’m not convinced that if all university students in Australia received free education and enough income support to live comfortably that the majority would spend all that extra time studying.

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  25. “I’m not convinced that if all university students in Australia received free education and enough income support to live comfortably that the majority would spend all that extra time studying”

    Indeed, that is a important point. With average paid work hours of 15 per week for FT students, that still leaves plenty of time for studying already. I suspect increased YA would mostly be taken as increased leisure.

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  26. When I said that I thought it appropriate that students rely partly on the state and partly on their own efforts, I should of course have added in parental support to that mix. Most younger students, in particular, combine their own earnings with some form of parental support (in cash or in kind), rather than with state support.

    It is the assessment of parental capacity to financially support students that I think is the most deficient aspect of current arrangements. I would therefore favour any increased expenditure on student assistance to be in the form of a more generous parental income test (at least as generous as for FTB, for example) rather than placing priority on increasing the maximum rates.

    The kids who really get a bad YA deal are not those from the very lowest socio-economic groups (who at least qualify for maximum rates of YA and can earn about $120 a week before their payments are reduced), but those with working parents in low-paid jobs who would get little or no YA because of parental income, but whose parents can’t really afford to subsidise them, especially if they live away from home. It is this latter group, I suspect, that contains the kids who find themselves having to spend very long hours in paid work to be able to survive at uni.

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  27. So why bring parental income or anything else into it? The only way to guarantee that students won’t have to give up studying for financial reasons is to make sure that they receive adequate resources. Maybe the unis should provide free accomodation + meals?
    The fact that students are working 15 hours a week now doesn’t mean that it doesn’t detract from their education. Is education just turning up for lectures, reading the minimum and handing in assignments? That’s a miserable view of what a university education should be for a young person.

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  28. “It is this latter group, I suspect, that contains the kids who find themselves having to spend very long hours in paid work to be able to survive at uni.”

    You’d think so, but the AVCC student income report last year found only fairly small socioeconomic differences in hours worked:

    High – 13.3; Upper-middle 14.5; Middle 14.8; Lower-middle 15.5; Low 15.5.

    The difference is probably more in how they spend what they earn.

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  29. But Russell, surely you don’t believe that there is no benefit for young people in having paid work on top of study. I for one would rather employ a recent graduate with a healthy employment resume than one with little or no experience of the paid workforce. And I presume that lots of young people actually enjoy working and the feelings of social contribution and financial independence that go with it.

    In the end, it does come down to the amount of resources that governments have to invest and the choices they make about where to put those resources for the best return. You aren’t ever going to get a system where students get paid enough to live on without any strings attached, so I wouldn’t personally waste time hankering for one.

    While it is true that a presumption of parental support is imperfect, in the end most parents who can afford to (and even some who can’t) will do what they can to support their kids through their student years and most kids get through OK.

    If you are one of the unfortunate ones to have well-off parents who don’t want to support you there are other options available – you can either convince Centrelink that your relationship with your parents has broken down or you can just defer your studies for a year or two until you qualify for student assistance as an independent. It’s not that difficult really.

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  30. Andrew

    Thanks for those stats. I guess the problem with averages is that sometimes they conceal more than they reveal. I agree that on the face of it, though, there doesn’t seem to be as much difference between kids from the different SES groups as you might expect.

    Does the AVCC data distinguish between kids who are getting income support or not, and between those who are dependent and independent for YA purposes? In the end, I was talking about a group that may be too small in the data for robust statistical conclusions – that is, young people who get little or no ‘dependent’ YA because of parental income, but whose parents don’t really have much capacity to offer financial support. So they would probably be lower-middle on your categorisation. But I would also expect this group to face the strongest financial incentives to defer their studies and work in order to qualify for independent YA, at which point they wouldn’t look any different to the low SES group.

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  31. “I for one would rather employ a recent graduate with a healthy employment resume …” of course you would since we now live in a world where everybody seeks to only exploit others. Once upon a time employers didn’t expect that young people just out of school or uni were already experienced workers, they expected to invest in training up those young employees. It was part of their responsibility. Things have changed.

    “You aren’t ever going to get a system where students get paid enough to live on without any strings attached” perhaps not, but a combination of a subsidy system (basic living conditions on campus, at a level probably not attractive enough to the better off) and a loan system (for other small expenses) would be OK. I could be wrong but I think what’s available to students now can’t really cover living costs.

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  32. Russell: “Is education just turning up for lectures, reading the minimum and handing in assignments? That’s a miserable view of what a university education should be for a young person”

    Thats pretty much what it is now Russell, except you don’t have to read the minimum — at least until 4th year. Also, I don’t think the problem is work, its too much work. I might also point out that a lot of kids in the “too much” basket are there for lifestyle reasons, not because they really need the money (of course, there are some of the latter).

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  33. Count me in as another baby-boomer who is forever grateful to the Whitlam government, despite its myriad faults, for opening the unis to a working class lad. I was the first to go to uni in my extended family, and while it may theoretically have been possible prior to free tuition it would not even have been thought of or considered appropriate under the ancien regime.

    This doesn’t, of course, say either way whether HECS or free tuition is better economic policy now – attitudes have changed, in part because of Whitlam’s reforms. But
    people should remember that these attitudes are, in the long run, heavily influenced by economic arrangements, which is why I oppose support for private schools and why I want adequate student allowances. Technical allocative efficiency isn’t everything.

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  34. “Once upon a time employers didn’t expect that young people just out of school or uni were already experienced workers”

    “everybody seeks to only exploit others”

    Russell, you really do seem to have an incurably gloomy outlook on life. Once upon a time, in our generation (assuming we are roughly the same age), most kids left school at 15, so that by 20 something they were experienced workers. I for one don’t ever want to go back to 60s or even the 70s or whenever the golden age was. I can tell you that, for a well-educated middle-class woman (though from humble beginnings and with the benefit of a free tertiary education, let me assure you), the world is a much better place now for all its shortcomings.

    What I meant by my comment is that it is a natural advantage for a graduate to have also had some experience of the world of work. It’s not that I want somehow to ‘exploit’ people, it’s just that most jobs require more than just a defined set of knowledge and people who have a work history are more likely to be able to demonstrate those other work skills, such as being to work well with others, being flexible in response to other people’s requirements, etc.

    What you seem to want is a system that delivers to everyone the same deal that was once available only to the very privileged few. I just don’t think that is affordable. On balance, I think our current system represents a reasonable compromise that offers the opportunity to go to university to everyone with the capability to get a place. The fact that not everyone can do exactly what they want when they want is, well, just life.

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  35. “What you seem to want is a system that delivers to everyone the same deal that was once available only to the very privileged few.”
    I want everyone to have the same educational opportunities – I don’t expect that everyone will want to take them up. Whether we can afford it is a matter of individual opinion – I think we can, but what we seem to be opting for is “private affluence, public squalor”
    School or university students can have work experience built into their courses.
    Speaking as someone who is often at the dentist I also don’t want to go back to the 60s – things have indeed improved. But we can carry the best of our values through changing times, and I think you are looking at people more exploitatively – our whole society is obsessed by ‘market value’ and can’t see any other.

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  36. Russell – are you saying that it is ‘exploitative’ to choose the best person for the job? How do you go about it then?

    I’ve always been bemused by advocates (usually from the welfare sector) who think that anyone who wants a job should just put their hands up and some employer (unspecified) should just give them one regardless of whether they are suitable at all, let alone more suitable than other applicants. I notice that Andrew had another post about allocating university places by lottery – maybe we need a job lottery as well? 🙂

    More seriously, I do have a concern that we provide as equal a set of opportunities for people as possible and I think my comments about how Youth Allowance could be improved were directed to that end. But you do need to remember that university graduates are part of society’s elite, no matter how humble their beginnings, who will generally have a higher than average income because of their education. So I think it is not unreasonable that both the student and the state contribute to the cost of that education, at least at tertiary level.

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  37. BG – I don’t mean exploitative in the sense of shamelessly wringing the last drop of blood out of the kid – just the current attitude that in the employment transaction you’re ‘buying’ this young persons skills, without any responsibility to them, or society, to foster a young developing person’s life. These young workers have gained employment experience, but what have they foregone?

    Are university graduates part of society’s elite? There are lots of ordinary jobs that require a uni degree and will never pay as much as some trades, or even truck driving (over the last few years, in WA). Isn’t one of the problems in many western big cities that increasingly teachers, nurses etc can’t afford to live anywhere near they work – hardly an elite then.

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  38. @conrad
    “Alternatively, whether it is going to last indefinitely would be really my long term concern.”

    Social democratic parties have been in power for the preponderance of the past 50 years in Nordic countries.

    Like

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