Last week’s Age education section ran this piece suggesting that a demand-driven system of higher education wouldn’t work.
Yesterday they ran my partial op-ed response to this; it doesn’t seem to be on the Age website but it is up at the CIS website.
The point I took up was this:
The tendency of students to prefer prestigious courses such as law highlights the question of how the government will ensure a student-centred system delivers the right mix of graduates to tackle Australia’s skills crisis.
But demand for law degrees also highlights another danger. Under a demand-driven system, popular fields of study could push out other, less-popular but no less important study areas.
Some key points from my response:
* the major graduate skill shortage (in the health professions) was not caused by a lack of demand; but by a lack of supply due to government restrictions;
*applications for vocational courses typically follow the labour market anyway
* there is always strong demand for non-vocational courses
* if there were shortages caused by demand shortfalls, the regulatory response will probably fail, since trying to steer students into government-approved courses by limiting their options is unlikely to work – it will cause people to not take courses, drop out, or not pursue the career the government wants
* persuasion is the best way of steering preferences, which is consistent with a demand-driven system.
I’ve never seen demand as a major problem in the new system. The main question in my mind was whether without a proper price mechanism there would be sufficient incentives for higher education providers to meet the demand.
But with vice-chancellors seemingly recklessly indifferent to price signals perhaps my concerns were exaggerated, at least until the money runs out….