Trying hard to find a redeeming feature in Labor’s full-fee place phase out

It is tempting to put the $249 million phasing out of full-fee domestic undergraduate places at public universities, some details of which were announced yesterday and reported this morning, in the same category as the $562 million wasted in a futile attempt to boost maths and science. Putting the two policies together, $811 million will be spent to add not one extra student place and to actually reduce the total funding universities receive. Even by the very low standards of Australian higher education policymaking, that is pretty spectacular.

The full-fee domestic undergraduate places were always a case of 2nd-best policymaking. The quotas and price controls (the 3rd best policy) crippling the Commonwealth-supported higher education system created artificial shortages of university places in high-demand courses. Allowing universities to offer additional places – or more accurately, allowing univerisites to offer those places to Australians rather than overseas students – alleviated these shortages.
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What’s missing in Working Lives

Unlike last year, the release of the 2008 Australia at Work report was unaccompanied by claims that rude Ministerial words amounted to threats to accademic freedom. By contrast, the welcoming of the Working Lives report by Julia Gillard was part of the generally uncritical response that the authors must have been hoping for last year.

Though like last year there is some interesting material in the report, the mix of data and advocacy – and the bills being partly picked up by the union movement – inevitably raises suspicions, not about the veracity of what is there, but about what has been omitted.

In Clive Hamilton mode, the Working Lives authors are keen to send the regulators in to make us go home earlier from work. But ABS reports showing that average full-time working hours and the proportions of workers spending more than 50 hours at week have been declining since 2003 are brushed off:

Despite claims of a downward trend, since the ABS has been collecting usual hours data in 2001, average usual hours have remained between 44 and 45 hours per week.

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