Last week the SMH reported that the University of Sydney was abolishing its undergraduate radiation therapy course in favour of a graduate course. The University’s explanation is that ‘the change was in line with a move towards graduate entry for many of its professional degrees.’
Since graduate-entry but initial professional entry degrees are relatively new in Australia we don’t have any strong evidence on their human capital economics. From a theoretical perspective, however, I would have thought there could be potential human capital benefits for occupations likely to benefit from study in more than one field (eg managers, public servants and other policymakers, lawyers, teachers, academics), and possible financial reward for having broader knowledge and skills. In any case, at least at the upper levels of most of those occupations have high earnings, and so additional degrees for general interest and enjoyment are affordable.
However financial rewards from added degrees are less likely for occupations which require highly-specialised technical knowledge but little else in the way of university-level education. All the health professions except perhaps those related to mental health would seem to fit into this category. And except for medical practitioners and dentists, the health professions generally pay salaries that could easily represent low rates of returns on investment if initial education cost significantly more.
The salaries received in 2006 by people with degrees in radiography, the field of study covering radiation therapy, shows that most are not high earners. Only about 15% earn more than $80,000 a year, and many of the incomes are likely to be the part-time salaries we would expect in a 70% female group of graduates.
I can’t find any explanation of whether Sydney will offer the places on a Commonwealth-supported or full-fee basis, but on currently advertised charges students would be up for between $15,000 and $34,000 in extra tuition costs, and also significant opportunity costs in forgone wages by delaying entry to the workforce.
The University of Sydney should be allowed to make the decision to go graduate entry and pay the commercial price if their judgment is wrong. However, the only current alternative course in NSW is at the University of Newcastle. Gillard’s demand-driven higher education system does allow competitors to enter the market – but only if they are existing public universities. A properly competitive system needs to permit other entrants to take advantage of / deal with mistakes by the current players. The existing professional assocation or the hospitals may have an interest in teaching radiation therapy to undergraduates.