The wrong way of financing student amenities

As expected, the government is trying again to restore compulsory amenities fees. I will do a detailed analysis of the bill tomorrow, but on an initial examination it is the same as the 2009 version that was rejected by the Senate.

I support unis being able to provide whatever services they like at whatever fee they determine. Let the market decide. But this amenities fee legislation should be rejected. These are my reasons:

1) It will force universities to provide non-academic services and student representation specified by the government. Universities should be able to make their own decisions about the right mix of services. We are yet to see draft guidelines which set out which services will be on the list, but the 2009 version had absurdly complex distinctions between what had to be funded from university money and what could be funded from student money. One factor that has changed since then is that the government’s guidelines could be disallowed by the House of Representatives.

2) The new obligations on the universities are unfunded – unless per student grants are increased they will have to come out of money formerly allocated to teaching. Continue reading “The wrong way of financing student amenities”

Be careful what you wish for #2

Back in August Kristy Fraser-Kirk courted publicity for her claim against David Jones and its former CEO Mark McInnes, filing an outlandish and attention-seeking $37 million lawsuit and calling a press conference to publicise her grievances.

But now she is complaining about all the media attention, claiming through her lawyers that ‘it has induced a psychiatric illness’, and that she now regularly ‘checks under her car’. For what we are not told.

This appears to be in support of yet another preposterous claim, that women who claim to have been previously harassed by McInnes should not have to be named so that their allegations can be investigated. From the judge’s comments last week, this part of the action looks like it will be struck out, as justice requires.

The jobs for divorce

Overcoming Bias blog reports on an interesting American study of divorce rates by occupation. It found, among other things, that

Dancers and choreographers registered the highest divorce rates (43.1 percent), followed by bartenders (38.4 percent) and massage therapists (38.2 percent). … Three types of engineers — agricultural, sales and nuclear engineers — were represented among the 10 occupations with the lowest divorce rates.

Using 2006 census data for people aged 30 to 49 years I found that there were very similar patterns here. Of the groups I examined bar attendants and baristas were the most divorced or separated, with massage therapists second, and actors and dancers fourth.

As in the US, engineers were among the least likely to divorce, with accountants and solictors only slightly more prone to marital breakdown.

Class background and financial situation probably explains some of the differences. But plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters have slightly more stable marriages than psychologists and human resource professionals.

For most occupations, there is a general approach to marriage – those most likely to divorce are generally also least likely to get married in the first place (a negative correlation of about .75 between divorce rates and marriage rates).

I think personality types may explain some of these differences. Continue reading “The jobs for divorce”

Be careful what you wish for

The Greens have been the most enthusiastic of the political party supporters of state-controlled campaign finance, wanting to eliminate public funding entirely.

But maybe in NSW they are starting to understand what a foolish idea that is. According to a report in the SMH yesterday, the government is planning a public funding scheme that favours major over minor parties:

candidates or parties that receive between 4 and 8 per cent of the vote will be reimbursed 25 per cent of their costs. Those who receive between eight and 20 per cent of the vote will be reimbursed 50 per cent, while those achieving more than 20 per cent of the vote will be repaid 75 per cent of their costs.

So the Greens would usually get 25% or 50% reimbursement, while the major parties would get 75%.

It’s the fundamental problem with all these proposals for electoral finance reform. While they are always surrounded with high-minded rhetoric about the integrity of the political process, they would give the political winners much greater power to rig the political game in their favour. Anyone who thinks that the NSW Right of the ALP would play fair in this system is very naive.

The great strength of the currently system, with extensive freedoms for the civil society to fund political activity, is that it does not link capacity to challenge the government to the generosity of those in power. Checks and balances is one of the oldest liberal constitutional ideas. We should never abandon it.

Out-of-control Vice-Chancellors?

The final 2009-10 budget outcome released today shows that exenditure on higher education blew out $200 million more than expected at the time of the May 2010 Budget. And even then they were forecasting a big increase on spending on top of what had been anticipated in May 2009.

What’s driving these financial blow-outs is a massive rush to enrol students before the 2012 lifting of caps on funded enrolment (which has not been legislated).

An article in the AFR a couple of weeks ago reported data showing 17 universities appear to be enrolled above the current 10% above-target funding cap.* Six are 17-19% above their original target number of funded students. For the additional students above the 10% cap universities get the student contribution amount (commonly called the HECS payment), but no Commonwealth subsidy.

This means that for unis the financial attractivness of over-enrolment varies a lot depending on discipline. For law and business courses where the Commonwealth subsidy is low anyway little is lost by over-enrolling. But in courses where the subsidy is high – 80% of revenue for science, for example – a lot is sacrificed. Continue reading “Out-of-control Vice-Chancellors?”

Do political donations disclosures increase or decrease confidence in the the political process?

One argument for stricter disclosure and control of political donations is to improve public perceptions of the political process. A NSW Parliament report from earlier this year said:

In evidence to this inquiry, the need for reform to restore public confidence in the integrity of the system was recognised by most of the political parties that are currently represented in the New South Wales Parliament…

It’s never been clear to me whether the disclosure regime would increase or decrease public confidence.

The general knowledge that it exists may increase confidence. On the other had, almost every specific mention of a donation is used to impugn donor and decision-maker alike. This could decrease confidence by providing more news hooks for negative stories about how politicians may favour donors.

However an analysis of political integrity questions asked by pollsters suggests that public confidence has generally been increasing over time. Continue reading “Do political donations disclosures increase or decrease confidence in the the political process?”

The corruption of campaign finance laws

As the SMH reported this morning, the NSW government has announced plans for the nation’s most draconian campaign finance laws, including:

• Political donations from individuals, registered political parties and other entities will be capped at $5,000 to registered political parties or groups and $2,000 to candidates or elected members annually;
• A candidate’s campaign expenditure will be capped at $100,000 per electorate during a regulated period;
• Expenditure by political parties will be capped at $100,000 per electorate and this is in addition to candidate’s expenditure cap
• Third parties may not receive more than $2,000 from each donor in a financial year;
• Third parties may not spend more than $1.05 million in a regulated period or $20,000 per electorate

And indeed if you were running the nation’s most unpopular government six months before an election why wouldn’t you back a plan to limit how much money people can spend throwing you out? Continue reading “The corruption of campaign finance laws”

Schools and status competition

Ross Gittins thinks that subsidising private schools means subsidising wasteful status competition.

A persistent line of social criticism argues that status competition is wasteful when people pay a premium for something that is not functionally superior but confers greater social status. Gittins uses the example of a a BMW versus a ‘perfectly satisfactory’ Toyota.

The public school lobby endlessly obsesses over a fairly small number of genuinely high-status schools – Sydney Grammar, MLC, Scotch, Ascham etc. Perhaps trying to get your kid into one of these is ‘status competition’ – though it could be just ensuring your kids get the same high standard of facilities at school that they get at home. Ross has a history of being over-confident in inferring motives from behaviour. Continue reading “Schools and status competition”

The no-longer-acceptable idea of a university

In this morning’s Australian my friend Simon Caterson writes about the Catholic Church’s beatification of John Henry Newman.

Outside Catholic circles (if not within them), Newman is most famous for his 1852 book The Idea of a University. It is perhaps the most cited book ever on higher education.

Ironically, an institution fulfulling Newman’s idea of university devoted to teaching and the development of character, with research and vocational training done elsewhere, would not be allowed to call itself a university in Australia. The protocols on recognition of higher education institutions agreed by all governments in Australia require a ‘university’ to conduct research.

John Henry Newman’s idea of a university, RIP.

The rise of religious schools

My CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham has a new paper out today on the rise of religious schools, written up in the Fairfax broadsheets.

It’s full of useful statistics on enrolments over time and surveys the literature and arguments surrounding religious schools, many of which have also been discussed over the years at this blog (I was originally going to be a co-author of this one, but could never make the time).

It finds the evidence against religious schools on sectarianism, intolerance etc to be lacking. This is my reading of the Australian evidence too.

However, while private schools definitely out-perform non-selective government schools on academic performance even after controlling for family characteristics, we can’t yet confidently make such a claim on the religious/values questions that influence some parents in sending their kids to religious schools.

We are not even sure whether religious schools make their students more religious in the long term – the limited and dated evidence suggests not, after controlling for the fact that religious families are more likely to send their kids to religious schools. I am one of the many atheist products of Christian schooling (not that the school influenced this either way).