Does full-fare public transport deter international students?

International students have long campaigned for public transport fare concessions. I have argued before that this is based on a mistaken understanding of why Australian students receive cheaper fares, but I will concede that there is potentially an interesting debate here about the status of long-term but legally temporary residents in Australia. A massive increase in their numbers – principally international students and section 457 visa holders – during the Howard years creates issues we’ve never really had to think about before (I might post on this some other time).

While I can sympathise but not agree with the international students, I have no sympathy at all with the arguments made by my colleagues in the higher education sector.

An op-ed by La Trobe academic Anthony Jarvis in The Age uses the ‘financial burden’ of overseas study as a rationale for extending transport concessions. But surely the very high fees charged by universities are a far more significant burden. For example a La Trobe business course would cost an international student more than $18,000 a year, an 80% mark-up on what La Trobe gets for a domestic student. Continue reading “Does full-fare public transport deter international students?”

Are overlapping state and federal responsibilities a good thing?

An Essential Research poll published today on Pollytics blog is one of the most interesting I have seen on federalism:

Question: Do you think the following services should be mainly the responsibility of the Federal Government or State Governments?

I suggests that the Australian public is not quite as centralist as other polling can lead us to believe. The federal government does not have majority support for exclusively taking over any of the areas of traditional state responsibility – though they are ahead of the states on all but water supply. The interesting point in this poll is the significant support for joint state and federal responsibility. Continue reading “Are overlapping state and federal responsibilities a good thing?”

Familism meets feminism

Like big business and the some (most?) in the Coalition party room, I’m not keen on Tony Abbott’s ‘big new tax’ plan to fund an exceptionally generous income-maintaining parental leave policy.

On the other hand, I do think it is a natural evolution of recent Australian conservative thinking. As it put it in my ‘big government conservatism’ article a few years ago:

Modern conservatism.. does not actively discourage or prevent departures from the norm in social and family relationships. So no-fault divorce stays, [and] single parent benefits are retained … . Rather, modern conservatism uses the state’s financial resources to ‘support families in the choices they wish to make’, to ‘help families struggling with the challenges of modern life’.

What this means is the ‘familist’ state increasingly contributes to activities which were once the family’s responsibility. The massive expansion in the FTB scheme and the baby bonus under Howard, and the rapid expansion in childcare subsidies, are all part of this. Parental leave is a logical extension of this trend. Indeed, the social science case for full-time parenting in the first six months of a baby’s life is far stronger than the case for the FTB handouts.

Abbott defends his scheme in these evolutionary terms: Continue reading “Familism meets feminism”

Should the My University website be the My Higher Education website?

Yesterday Julia Gillard promised a My School companion, a My University website. There are already similar websites operating in the US and in the UK.

A My University website is a far better idea that the ‘performance funding’ policy foreshadowed last year, which will use much of the same data but hand out cash according to the DEEWR bureaucracy’s definition of ‘performance’. As I argued at the time, many of these measures do not clearly measure ‘performance’, or involve trade-offs that universities and students should decide on, not bureaucrats. If would-be students are given the data, they can determine what weight if any to give it.

The My University website concept needs to expand to include private providers of higher education. Continue reading “Should the My University website be the My Higher Education website?”

Is Australia an ‘arbitrary nation state’?

“That said, it should be recognised that immigration is here to benefit native Australians and not the other way round.”

Why do you think that? Do you simply have no concern for people not born within the borders of your pretty arbitrary nation state? If not, why should foreigners matter less than Australians?

– Robert Wiblin, 2 March.

Robert’s point is a challenge for political philosophies with universalist ambitions, such as some forms of liberalism and egalitarianism. States are part of these liberal and egalitarian theories, to protect or enforce rights, but they are not nation-states and the people in them have no particular nationality. Individual rights and entitlements derive from an individual’s status as a human (‘human rights’), not their membership of any smaller group.

So on these accounts, a purist classical liberal would have no easy ideological grounds for limting geographic movement, and a purist egalitarian would have no grounds for denying the claims of poor people throughout the world to material support. Certainly there would be significant personal costs to both classical liberals and egalitarians from such policies, but being born into a rich and successful country is a piece of very good luck that is morally arbitrary.

In practice, of course, few classical liberals or egalitarians pursue this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion. Continue reading “Is Australia an ‘arbitrary nation state’?”

Why even a good English curriculum should not be a monopoly curriculum

At least at first glance, the draft English national curriculum released yesterday looks reasonably good. I was pleased to see specific reference to apostrophes, and encouraged by a story in this morning’s Age that Julia Gillard is also big on apostrophes:

As a solicitor at law firm Slater and Gordon in the 1980s and ’90s, Ms Gillard would get her staff to chant: ”One cat’s hat, two cats’ hats, where do the apostrophes go?”

She told her biographer, Jacqueline Kent: ”If I got a letter with it done wrong I would draw a cat with a hat at the bottom in the hope it would come back right the next time. They all thought I was kind of strange.”

That Gillard needed to use a primary school mnemonic to teach people working in law firms how to write letters shows how badly English teaching has failed over the last generation.

Though this English curriculum may be better than those currently in use by the states, I am still strongly opposed to the idea of a national monopoly curriculum. What we should have instead is competitive curricula. Each curriculum on offer could be adopted anywhere in Australia, but none would be mandated for every school.

Though there are educational reasons for avoiding monopoly – one size is unlikely to fit all, we need better pressures than politics for innovation and improvement, etc – other stories running in today’s papers highlight the political reasons against monopoly curriculum (this is as much a criticism of the current state monopolies as the national curriculum). Continue reading “Why even a good English curriculum should not be a monopoly curriculum”

Is migration opinion turning?

In November last year, most people (52%) thought that the scale of the migration program was ‘about right’ or ‘too low’. But an Essential Research poll reported by Pollytics blog today suggest that opinion may have turned.

At very least it suggests that by raising the salience of three distinct issues relating to migration – infrastructure overload, change to society, and the environment – public opinion can switch sides on the basic too many/about right or too few question.