A few weeks ago my hopes were raised that we might be headed for a voucher system in higher education.
Yesterday my hopes were raised again. The Victorian government confirmed that it was introducing a voucher scheme into vocational education, and Julia Gillard confirmed that income-contingent loans would be available to finance the partially deregulated fees accompanying the voucher scheme.
This makes it more difficult for her to reject a voucher scheme for higher education.
There have been the predictable voices against the Victorian innovation, though focused on the cost angle:
Australian Education Union TAFE president Mary Bluett accused the Government of cost-shifting and warned that higher fees, together with the new HECS-style loan scheme, would deter people from taking on training courses.
Sadly, the Victorian Opposition is also taking the populist line on costs (what’s the point of a Liberal Party that does not believe in markets?).
But let me put a prediction on the public record: this reform will increase the number of TAFE students in Victoria. It substantially eases supply constraints, and gives both public and private vocational providers more freedom to innovate and attract students.
Experience around the world suggests that access and ‘affordability’ aren’t always complements, as the left assumes – often they are at least in part opposities. With limited amounts of money available for education there is a choice between increasing supply and keeping prices low for those who do get in.
The Brumby government has sensibly decided to put its money towards easing supply constraints, and dealing with the increased investment per student via student fees with loans. The HECS experience suggests that this will have none of the claimed negative effects.