Spin on university funding

In responding to a claim by former Monash Vice-Chancellor Richard Larkins that fees should be deregulated, one of Julia Gillard’s spokespeople asserted that

The government has invested a substantial amount of additional funding in the tertiary and research sector that will not just arrest the decline in real funding that occurred under the Coalition but actually begin to turn it around.

Note how the tense changes mid-sentence. Somehow the money they have invested already will at at some point in the future stop real funding declining.

In their first budget, virtually all the new higher education spending was just squeezing out private spending, by cutting student contributions for science and maths and abolishing full-fee places.

In their second budget, all but $82 million of the $533 million in new spending for 2009-10 came from abolishing Coaliton programmes or raiding the Coalition-established Education Investment Fund. Continue reading “Spin on university funding”

Conservatism from Deakin to Howard

George Brandis’s Deakin lecture is now online, courtesy The Australian.

One of his points was that John Howard was the first Liberal leader to expressly incorporate conservatism into the party ideology, describing the Liberal Party as the heir to both the conservative and liberal traditions in Australia, and himself as a social conservative and economic liberal.

So far as I can recall that it a correct observation about party rhetoric. What I am less sure of is that Howard – despite his own occasional claim to the contrary – was actually an unusually conservative Liberal prime minister.

Important elements of Liberal ideology from Deakin to Menzies owe more to conservative than liberal thinking, even if neither Deakin nor Menzies ever labelled them as such.

The stand-out example of this is the White Australia Policy. Take this passage from Afred Deakin on the WAP (quoted in Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty): Continue reading “Conservatism from Deakin to Howard”

American climate change scepticism growing too

A couple of weeks ago I noted modest increases in Australian climate change scepticism and much larger increases in policy action scepticism over the last couple of years.

Now a Pew survey shows that in the United States the sceptics are gaining ground. Since April 2008, the proportion of respondents believing that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming has dropped 14 percentage points to 57% (there is no same-wording question in Australia, but similar questions find over 80% belief in global warming).

climatepew Continue reading “American climate change scepticism growing too”

Better applications needed as well as better uni selection

The Sunday Age‘s letter page had a mixed reaction to last week’s story about widening entry criteria to university courses, especially by using aptitude tests (based on this report released later in the week by the U of M Centre for the Study of Higher Education).

But none criticised the proposal for more aptitude testing. America is the home of aptitude testing for tertiary admission, and there it has long been controversial, accused of socio-economic and cultural/racial biases. The CSHE report is hopeful that aptitude testing might dilute the SES biases of using school results for admission, but they couldn’t offer strong evidence that this was the case, and note that whatever the admission system middle class people are likely to do better. Though aptitude tests are increasingly being used here, I think we are short of the evidence base needed to recommend their spread, rather than continuing to watch as individual universities experiment with their use.

The perspective I thought was missing in the CSHE report – perhaps because it is largely a literature review, and reflects the work of past researchers – is that of the applicant. It’s largely about how universities select students, rather than how students choose which institution to apply to. So it focuses on universities finding out more about students, rather than students finding out more about universities, their academic prospects, and what jobs they might get on completion. Continue reading “Better applications needed as well as better uni selection”

Hamilton for Higgins?

It’s not often that Pollytics, Andrew Bolt and Catallaxy blogs all reach the same conclusion: that Clive Hamilton is not a good candidate for Higgins.

I’ve written a couple of long critiques of Hamilton’s books (here and here). Essentially what Hamilton has been doing over a series of books and papers is to try to give his mystical worldview (he wrote a book in 1994 called The Mystical Economist), which rejects the materialism of the modern world, a respectable basis in both natural and social science. The natural science aspect argues that the environment cannot sustain this way of life, while the social science aspect argues that it is not good for our emotional or spiritual well-being.

While in my two articles on his social science I argued that he was unsuccessful, I do have a kind of admiration for the intellectual ambition behind it. Very few intellectuals try to cover so many fields in advocacy of their one core idea. Continue reading “Hamilton for Higgins?”

Do Australian applicants take note of skills shortages?

While international candidates are aware of specific skill shortages areas via DIAC and courses to suit outcomes, when will Australian students follow suit?

commenter Andrew Smith, 21 October

The answer to Andrew’s question is: already. Because we have university applications data by field of study we can track whether would-be students respond to labour market trends.

In looking at this issue, I classified courses as in-demand if they satisfied two conditions. First, they had to lead to occupations on the skills shortages list. Second, there had to be a tight graduate labour market, which I classified as 5% or less of recent graduates looking for work in the Graduate Destination Survey.

All the disciplines that satisfied these tests showed an increase in applications, while all other disciplines put together showed a decline: Continue reading “Do Australian applicants take note of skills shortages?”

Should there be a charter of rights referendum?

In the SMH, law academic George Williams rejects the idea that there should be a referendum on a charter of rights. He says that

Referendums are held to change the constitution, and have never been to approve an ordinary act of Parliament.

I’m not convinced by this point. The Australian constitutional system is much more than just the formal document called the Constitution. It includes all the laws, conventions and judicial decisions that establish and set out the relationships between the key institutions of government.

In this broader sense of a constitutional system, a charter of rights is an important change in the relationship between the executive and the judiciary, and represents a major shift in how the rest of us consider issues covered by the charter. The substantive rights and wrongs of various issues will become secondary to the legal arguments for and against, which are often much harder for ordinary citizens to understand. The judicial decisions made are likely to lead to conclusions which majorities do not support.

In this context, a referendum is not a silly idea. It’s not like having a vote on an ETS, as Williams suggests, or any of the other issues parliament considers each year. It’s about the rules of the political game, about who gets to decide what. It is a constitutional question, even if not an amendment to the Constitution.

Generational differences in issue opinion?

At the end of another post on demographic shifts in voting patterns against the Coalition, Pollytics blogger Scott Steel says:

Think of the vast generation gap that exists between the youngest and oldest cohorts of the electoral roll on climate change, same sex marriage, censorship laws, asylum seekers, immigration policy and general technology issues – how will the Libs pivot towards Gen Y when on any of these issues the views of the party’s older membership base is incompatible with the majority view of Gen Y..

But is there a vast generaton gap on all these issues? I was particularly curious about immigration, as opinion on this issue appears to be cyclical, though this does not rule out generational effects as well.

On looking at the 2007 Australian Election Survey’s question on migration by Scott’s categories (Pre-WW2 born up to 1945, boomers born 1946 to 1964, Gen X born 1965 to 1980, and Gen Y born 1981 onwards) it does have the pattern he expects, but it does not show fundamental differences. Gen Y had a significantly larger majority in favour of saying that the current intake was about right or not large enough than the pre-WW2 generation, but they are both on the same side of the then seemingly cyclical pro-migration view.

Question: Number of migrants allowed into Australia: gone much too far/ gone too far/ about right/ not gone far enough/ not gone nearly far enough. Continue reading “Generational differences in issue opinion?”

Politician admits wasting billions of dollars

Ok , an ex-politician. But even among ex-politicians, how many admit to being partly responsible for wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars, as former Hamer and Kennett government minister Rob Maclellan does in The Age his morning?

The sources of this waste are Alcoa aluminium smelters near Geelong and in Portland, a Victorian coastal town. By the time current contracts expire The Age estimates that these smelters will have received $4.5 billion in electricity subsidies.

As Maclellan now concedes, ever agreeing to this arrangement was a ‘collective moment of insanity’ around the cabinet table. There are many such moments, but at least Maclellan is, albeit far too late to do anything about it, admitting to this one.

The party paradox of donation bans

With political donations laws, the news only seems to get worse. Following a similar story in the AFR on Monday, the SMH today reported that the major parties are actively discussing banning both corporate and union donations. They are also discussing limiting individual donations to $1,500 to $2,000. Campaigns would rely even more on public funding.

Public funding of campaigns invariably favours incumbent parties as it is based on past electoral support. New parties will struggle to get large numbers of votes until they have significant campaign funds, but they won’t get significant campaign funds until they have large numbers of votes. It’s the current main players trying to maintain their cartel against potential competitors (again).

The downside for the major political parties is that the ban would diminish their role in political life, disconnecting them from their own supporters and the broader community. Much of what parties do between elections is, in various forms, to raise money. To the extent that this is prohibited or made unnecessary by public funding, there will be less need to organise functions and go meet people. Governments always destroy social capital when they take over the functions of NGOs and volunteers, and this would be no exception. Parties will shrink further towards being a core of state-funded apparatchiks.

It would be quite a paradoxical outcome. The major parties would be more secure than ever as controllers of parliaments, while never more lifeless and unrepresentative as organisations.