Why do graduates lean left?

James Paterson had an op-ed in yesterday’s Weekend Australian arguing that uni graduates lean left, and blaming it in part on academic bias.

I had a look at the party id question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 and the differences by qualification level are certainly striking. However people with TAFE certificates and diplomas have similar affiliations to people with bachelor degrees, despite the fact that there are few ‘political’ courses taught by these institutions.

On the other hand, those who spend longer at university, postgraduates, end up with more left-wing affiliations than bachelor degree holders. This leaves open the possibility of a ‘university’ effect on political views.

Party identification (%)

Continue reading “Why do graduates lean left?”

Another higher education review

The government has finally announced the terms of reference and review panel for its review of university teaching funding. It was first promised in the May 2009 Budget.

The terms of reference acknowledge that the proposed new regulation of institutional and course standards changes things fundamentally. It would be irrational for one arm of government to set standards and another deny universities the finance needed to meet those standards (though as I have long had to tell bewildered newcomers to higher education policy, the fact that something is absurd has never been regarded as a valid argument against it).

The terms of reference are silent on one of the biggest issues in costs, whether the per student funding rate includes funding for research time. If it costs teaching alone – say 8 months a year including preparation time – the current funding rates probably are more or less adequate for a standardised education product. If research is not included, it will lead to a massive shake-up of the whole sector. Continue reading “Another higher education review”

Is demography destiny in public opinion?

The latest survey on gay marriage finds 62% of voters in favour and about a third against. This is pretty much unchanged from last year. The issue has gone up the political agenda, thanks largely to the Greens (how I hate to say anything nice about them…), but so far opinion is not moving much.

But the demographics of this issue remain very striking, and look to be a case of demography as destiny in public opinion. The case against gay marriage seems lost. Eventually politics will catch up with opinion, so I think it now a case of when we get gay marriage rather than if.

What to do with refugees after they arrive?

There has always been majority public opposition to refugee boat arrivals. But what should we do with them once they have arrived? A couple of pollsters today released surveys on the government’s plan to house refugees with kids in the community.

The SMH found 50% opposition and 47% support, much more evenly divided opinion than on arrivals as such.

Essential Research found 53% disapproval and 33% approval, with 13% don’t know. The difference seems to be that with the SMH/ACNielsen phone poll the ‘don’t know’ option is not offered but recorded if given, while with Essential’s online poll
‘don’t know’ is there as an option. Continue reading “What to do with refugees after they arrive?”

A crisis of capitalism turns into a crisis of social democracy

Higher education has been hit hard in the British spending review, with funding to be reduced from £7.1 billion to £4.9 billion by 2014-15. Reports suggest that their low-tech subjects may have their funding cut entirely. The fee increases flowing from the Browne report will presumably make up most if not all the losses.

In Australia HECS successfully transferred costs from taxpayers to students/graduates with no loss of graduate numbers. It will be interesting to see how these UK changes go, as the cuts are much larger and quicker than anything seen here.

This financial crisis is not having the political consequences I expected two years ago, or what our unlamented former leader predicted in his Monthly essays. In Europe, it has become a crisis of social democracy. Their bloated welfare states were in bad financial shape before the financial crisis struck; now they simply unable to cope. Continue reading “A crisis of capitalism turns into a crisis of social democracy”

Do unis contribute to business innovation?

While in Sydney for the Mont Pelerin Society meeting last week, I was the commenter on a Shaken and Stirred dinner talk by Terence Kealey, VC of the University of Buckingham, the UK’s only private university. He’s profiled in today’s Higher Education Supplement.

Kealey is unlike most VCs. The first thing that strikes you is his personality – an extrovert among introverts. The second thing that strikes you are his political views – a university leader who spurns government funding in an industry convinced that it should receive large handouts in the ‘public interest’.

I think Kealey is right that the obsession with linking university research to industry and ‘innovation’ is largely misguided. We’ve had at least 20 years of this as a policy priority. In my comments I argued that the results here are as disappointing as Kealey argues they have been elsewhere. Continue reading “Do unis contribute to business innovation?”

A radical plan for British higher education

The UK Browne report on higher education was released last week, and unsurprisingly it has been controversial.

The main features:

* As in Australia from 2012, Browne proposes that universities compete for students rather than having student places allocated to them. However there is an important difference. In the UK, the government would still control the number of places by setting minimum entry standards for a supported place. In Australia, places will effectively be allocated by universities. I have argued for the Australian approach on the grounds that I do not believe the central planner can make good judgments at the margins as to which applicants are worth selecting. But given the cost blowouts in Australia I can understand why the Brits may want to take another approach.

* Like in Australia, there would be only limited capacity for new providers to enter the system. It seems the only way in is by offering ‘priority’ courses. This is a mistake if they want (as they say) to encourage competition. Continue reading “A radical plan for British higher education”

Hayekian vs Keynesian happiness

Posting has been very light this last week because I have been at the Sydney meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international (36 countries represented at this meeting) organisation of classical liberals started by Hayek and Friedman in the late 1940s.

I was a discussant on Jason Potts‘ paper on happiness economics. Jason’s paper was on an aspect of what I see as the conflict between the classical liberal and social democratic views on happiness research.

Social democrats (eg Richard Layard) look for statistical associations between happiness levels and social or economic conditions, with the hope that by manipulating those conditions they can increase happiness. In Jason’s perspective, this is happiness Keynesianism – a confidence in the ability of government to identify and manipulate macro social and economic indicators to maximise gross national happiness.

Jason took what might be called a Hayekian view of happiness – that knowledge of what makes people happy in specific social circumstances is highly decentralised. We receive information from our own feelings and from observing those around us – information not readily available to the happiness central planners. Adaptation of attitudes and behaviour at this micro level is the key to achieving individual happiness. Continue reading “Hayekian vs Keynesian happiness”

Money as the cure for materialism?

Ever since it became possible for humans to acquire more wealth than was needed for survival social critics have been warning against its corrupting effects. These days the warning even comes with some evidence, as Sacha Molitorisz notes in last weekend’s papers. During the week there was another paper, this time by U of M academic Bruce Headey and others, showing that material with materialistic goals are less happy.

Headey’s work has been particularly important because it uses longitudinal studies, in this case a German study, to see long-term effects. He’s particularly concerned with challenging the setpoint theory of happiness, that people have a ‘natural’ level of happiness linked strongly to their personality type, and that few people will move beyond their setpoint for prolonged periods of time.

The figure below, taken from the article in the second link, shows that using 5-year averages of life satisfaction and comparing it with successive 5 year periods from 1984-89 to 2004-08 that substantial minorities do undergo significant long-term changes in their self-reported well-being. Continue reading “Money as the cure for materialism?”