Higher education policy 1979

As reported in the SMH, the National Archives today released two 1979 Cabinet papers on higher education.

One Cabinet submission was a proposal to re-introduce university fees, perhaps at about $1,000 a year. The arguments in favour were ‘equity’, noting the generally regressive nature of higher education subsidy; some microeconomic benefit in encouraging students to think more carefully about whether they should pursue higher education, and if so in which discipline; and budgetary savings.

The arguments against were essentially political – a 1977 election promise not to reintroduce fees, public criticism, and complications in Commonwealth-State relations (at the time, universities were funded via tied grants to the states, rather than directly). These arguments won.

This result seems to capture the long-term culture of higher education policy on the Coalition side – some broadly sound but half-hearted and quarter-way policy suggestions, trumped by political nervousness. There has never been a critical mass of Coalition MPs who care enough and know enough about the issue to take some political risks to achieve something really worthwhile. Continue reading “Higher education policy 1979”