As I feared, the Bradley higher education report undermines its voucher proposal by failing to fix the price signals.
Indeed, it is worse than not deregulating fees, bad as that is. The Bradley committee haven’t even given any serious attention to how public funding could help make a voucher system work. Universities aren’t going to rush to enrol additional students under a voucher scheme if the price isn’t right. Indeed, if the price is wrong their response might be the opposite one: to use the lifting of regulation to shed uneconomic students.
The one study we have on university expenses relative to income for Commonwealth-supported places suggests that in half the disciplines they looked at universities lost money. This study has (acknowledged) data problems, but that finding is consistent with the observed behaviour of universities in trying to cut costs and recruit profitable fee-paying students. And a few of the disciplines in question did get some extra funding in the 2007-08 Budget. However, it suggests that an economically rational university would not be rushing to take extra students across a wide range of fields of study.
Continue reading “The price is wrong”