Higher education in the Budget

My quick analysis of the higher education aspects of the budget is online at The Australian. I had a 9pm deadline, so not much time to read the relevant parts of the budget papers and write the article (Wayne Swan’s voice droning in the background did not help either). Unlike last year, though, there wasn’t too much to absorb.

Labor’s estimated spending for 2008-09 is less than what the Coalition had in its forward estimates. There seems to be a small cut in the Institutional Grant Scheme, which is the block grant for research, but I think the main cause is that the first distribution from the investment fund that Costello set up last year has been postponed. It will be the leanest year for universities in a long time.

17 thoughts on “Higher education in the Budget

  1. I like the doubling of the number of Australian Postgraduate Awards, given that I would like to do a PhD at some stage! Andrew do you know how many are actually available in total every year across all universities?


  2. “I like the doubling of the number of Australian Postgraduate Awards”

    This is basically an all talk with no reality policy — as far as I’m aware, most universities simply can’t get enough good students to do PhDs in many areas already (although of course there are no published stats on this), and the small number of areas where PhDs are very popular, the top supervisors get overloaded with them (cf. engineering vs. psychology). On this note, it is hard to imagine who is going to supervise them all (or train them for that matter) — most people who would be good supervisors tend to end up overloaded with students, and so students either get little supervision or choose someone that might not be good as a supervisor. Some outcome stats on people with PhDs by area would also be nice — but obviously this will massively change if they double the number.


  3. I would be interested to find out what percentage of PhD students in Australia are currently supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and how hard it is to get one. If you need first class honours to be even considered for one, then it kind of contradicts Conrad’s argument that universities can’t get enough “good students”. Wouldn’t be surprised if many academics are overworked though.


  4. Christian,

    the areas I’m talking about are things like engineering, where doing a PhD means you spend 4 years of your life on poor pay to get qualified to do a job that pays less and has worse conditions than what you could do without a PhD (and there is also risk in that too — non-completion rates are high). Not suprisingly, there is little demand in these areas. There are also some areas of science with very little demand for other reasons (e.g., chemistry).

    Also, first class honours meaning essentially nothing these days — many universities dish out over 50% of them and the rest are almost always H2As. It’s happy city from high school to the end of universities these days. The practical results of this is that for scholarships and the like, we often get asked to give the order of students in the course, although I know of no universities that publish this officially.


  5. Christian – In 2006, there were about 20,000 PhD students and about 5,000 APAs, so about 25% receive them (though there are other scholarships). Presuming constant numbers, the proportion would rise to about 50% under Labor’s policy.

    I tend to think that higher scholarships for a lower number of people would be a better policy. Having had an APA myself many years ago, living on a subsistence income while most of your contemporaries are starting to earn good money is not an attractive option.


  6. Sinc – Though the quality of the budget papers has improved slightly on last year, it is still very difficult even for people who work in this field to work out exactly what is going on because of the level of aggregation in the published numbers. But on my analysis at this point there will be an increase on actual spending for 2007-08, with it roughly neutral on forward estimates.


  7. Yes I agree with you on that point Andrew, it would be better to raise the amount of the APA than double the amount available. Living off $20,000 is not too attractive a prospect, especially in the case of singles. I think in the UK the research council scholarships which I think are the equivalent of our APAs are about 14,000 GBP which is around 28,000 AUD which is not that bad especially if living outside of London. I’m surprised how few people doing PhDs in Australia are on scholarships – In the US it seems everybody gets some form of support, here I suppose most people have to rely on themselves or their partner/family.


  8. I can’t quite work out what they’ve done either. Looking at table 7.1 (box 4, budget paper 1 statement 6) it looks like they have stripped money out of Higher Education Special Projects (don’t know what that is) and then replace that funding in the forward projections starting 2009-10 in the Higher Ed Endowment Fund.


  9. Sinc – There was not $613 million in special projects in the 2007-08 Budget, only $44 million. I think this is the $500m for capital works which is to be paid in 2007-08, plus the ad hoc VSU buy off the National Party funds, plus the $15m for the U of M think-tank, plus the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies ($8m). That still leaves me a bit short of $613m but most of the way there. So it is a series of once-only payments that cannot be regarded as ‘cuts’ if they are not repeated.


  10. Good point. I looked at last year’s overall expense estimates, but not the detailed breakout.

    If most of that $613 million was ad hoc stuff, then the uni’s have done quite well this year.


  11. Christian,

    most universities (possibly all) in Australia have their own scholarships schemes, and most seem to have similar amounts to APAs they get, so the number of people you are looking at on them is probably at least 50% (probably more, as there are also many ad-hoc industry ones, and people ask for them on grants also). The main way they are dished out is to the people who are the top few in 4th year, but often specific areas are offered them, which means if you want to do a PhD in an area with no competition it will be much easier to get one than in an area with lots.


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