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The Budget washup: higher education
As we move to the demand driven system, the Government has made a reasonable allocation for growth of
21,000 EFTSL in 2012, 7,000 EFTSL in 2013, and 4,000 EFTSL in 2014, which is consistent with many
estimates of need (for example, the Victorian Tertiary Education Plan Report p.38).
Scheme 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Number of Commonwealth
places (EFTSL) 469,428 488,000 507,000 513,000 517,000
Number of Commonwealth
coursework places (EFTSL) 30,276 33,000 35,000 36,000 36,000
Total places (EFTSL) 499,704 521,000 542,000 549,000 553,000
Scheme 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Source: DEEWR PBS 2011-12 p92;
New analysis to be released today (presumably by Minister Evans) shows funding for teaching,
learning and research is set to rise to $13 billion next year, up from $8 billion in 2007.
Simon Marginson writes that the 2011-12 Budget has virtues for the higher sector of an
immediate political kind but does nothing about the problems looming in the medium term nor
position education and research in a long-term vision of national modernisation. The crunch on
public funding will be the government's response to the Lomax-Smith review of base funding,
which reports at the end of October and is meant to create a stable, long-term funding system.
Extra support for regional universities, with a doubling of regional loading and the $500 million
regional EIF round, has been generally welcomed, although one commentator notes the extra
money could be outweighed by the damage wrought by metropolitan universities enrolling more
students in the demand driven system (No beating around the bush). However, V-Cs David
Battersby (University of Ballarat) and Paul Johnson (La Trobe) remain upbeat (A test beyond city
limits). Bruce Chapman, the father of HECS, reckons that the cut in the discount for upfront HECS
will increase the number of people opting for loans subsidised by taxpayers and end up costing
money. The claimed savings from abolition of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council have
taken another hit, with budget papers revealing an $8.93 million deficit, including $3.56m in wind-
up costs. Former CSIRO entomology chief Max Whitten says has ''knocked the stuffing out'' of
one of Australia's most successful and cost-effective research ventures by slashing $33 million
from the Cooperative Research Centres program. However Research Minister Kim Carr has given
an assurance the co-operative research centres program is not being wound down, despite the
funding cut that could leave the 20-year-old initiative with as few as 33 centres instead of the 44 it
has now. Anna-Maria Arabia (Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies) calls
a spade a spade and says an annual funding increase below the inflation rate is effectively a cut,
which is what has happened to CSIRO.
The Budget washup: VET
The Government nominated its $3 billion Building Australia’s future workforce package as the
centrepiece of last week’s budget. The Government proposes to offer the states and territories up
to $1.75 billion in extra funding if they agree to tougher scrutiny of the performance of their
TAFEs. But the faint beat of tom toms could be heard from across the Nullarbor as the Western
Australian Government warned it will not be "blackmailed" into signing a skills funding deal tied
to performance targets. Expert analysis of budget commitments suggests the real VET windfall
was somewhere between $255 and $741 million over the next four years. Leesa Wheelahan (L.H.
Martin Institute) there are some undeniably good aspects in the budget for VET and some new
money, most of it recycled or redirected. It was more spin than spanner. She also detected an
unwarranted negativity towards public TAFE institutes, with the overall impression from the
budget papers and the media's response being that our TAFE institutes are inefficient,
unresponsive and need a good bit of market discipline and industry leadership to whip them into
shape. The problem, she says, is that we already have an industry-led system. Gavin Moodie says
the Budget signals further moves towards a system of tertiary education entitlements available
similarly to vocational and higher education students. He also notes that the when taken with the
“Productivity Commission's recent intellectually dishonest attacks on TAFE and its internally
inconsistent recommendations on teacher training”, budget changes suggest that the government
plans to put employers in charge of a much more privatised system of vocational education.
Making the new National Workforce and Productivity Agency responsible for managing the
national workforce development fund seems to be turning it into a revived Australian National
Training Authority without the participation of the states and territories.
Unity ticket for TEQSA
Creation of the new university regulator is assured, with the Government agreeing to adopt all
seven of the Senate education committee's substantive recommendations to the legislation
establishing the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. The TEQSA bill will now
explicitly assert the right of universities to self-accredit their own courses, an authority peak
university lobbies demanded be inserted in the bill. The ubiquitous Greg Craven has declared that
“everything is secondary to self-accreditation – even a Carlton Premiership”, which for most
civilised people is hardly a ringing commendation. “It’s always been a concept that we understood
at universities and people who understood universities in government also understood it, but it’s
going to be L-A-W - law,” exalted Professor Craven. The Senate Committee actually recommends
that “universities have the authority to self-accredit courses of study, except where TEQSA limits or
removes that authority”.
Funding for quality: a tricky balancing act
Peter Coaldrake (V-C Queensland University of Technology) observes that in an expanding higher
education system, robust quality assurance processes are essential and it is it is particularly
important to have a strong filter for newcomers whether those seeking entry are private or public
providers. But the technical process of audit will not produce quality in the absence of adequate
Shonky advertising &diploma mills
The Victorian TAFE Association is calling for a crackdown on what it says are rising instances of
misleading advertising in the state's open market for vocational education and training, where
diplomas are being touted as requiring just a four days to complete, when such qualifications
actually required 600 to 650 hours of student work, including class time and workplace tasks. The
VRQA is investigating the claims.
Trimester system to stay at Deakin
Deakin University will stick with its controversial trimester model after vice-chancellor Jane den
Hollander said it provided a better fit with the needs of modern students. But she admitted some
smart thinking would be needed to cram in a crowded curriculum and assessment period while
preserving the number of teaching weeks each trimester. An independent review by
PricewaterhouseCoopers was highly critical of the implementation, saying there was insufficient
consultation and it put more pressure on students, especially the shortened exam period. But the
review suggested persisting with a revised version, and Professor den Hollander has backed that
and plans to offer more units in the third trimester, making it available to more students. One of
her challenges in finetuning the model will be bringing wary staff and a sceptical National Tertiary
Education Union on board.
Aptitude tests show benefits
Aptitude tests for school-leavers have proven their value as a way into universities for clever
students who would have no prospect of making it on their final exam results, a trial has shown.
During the pilot, almost 1500 people sat the uniTEST, with about 400 gaining admission. The
report concluded at least 165 who might have missed out on entry via normal channels had been
admitted. Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz supported the uniTEST study,
which captured students who might otherwise not qualify for university by way of ATARs yet were
perfectly capable of succeeding. Richard James (University of Melbourne) says we are likely to see
admissions criteria and practices diversify as Australia moves into a more deregulated
environment and aptitude assessment ought to be part of the mix.
End dependence: Youth Allowance submissions
The peak university and student groups have both called for the age of independence to be
lowered to 18 – a move which would effectively terminate the dependent eligibility stream for the
vast majority of university students.
Universities Australia (UA) and the National Union of Students (NUS) also want any student forced
to move away from home to be classified as independent for Youth Allowance purposes. The NUS
said that anyone facing a public transport trip of an hour or more to university should be
“deemed” to have had to move – a proposal which would encompass many metropolitan students
as well as their regional counterparts. The federal government could entice as many as half a
million more Australians into higher education – and possibly make net budget savings in the
process – by adding $2000 a year of income support as a top-up to students’ HECS loans,
according to modelling conducted for an unpublished PhD thesis.
ERA does not assess innovation potential
Former Chief Scientist Robin Batterham has told a conference that while there is broad acceptance
of the need for the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, it falls short on measuring
innovation and research impact.
Band-Aid diplomacy failed to patch up India relationship
A trio of cables on the WikiLeaks website provides an insight into the Commonwealth and State
government apparently ineffectual responses to the media outrage in India and the tense
diplomatic relations following the bashing of Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009.
The US embassy in Canberra reported to Washington that a fence mending visit to India by the
then Education Minister missed significant commercial opportunities, by focussing too narrowly
and failing to engage more broadly with India, quoting a former Indian consul that Australian-
Indian relations had too long revolved around the "three shared Cs: curry, cricket and
Working class boganism stealing our best and brightest
A large part of society still regards education with a jaundiced eye, writes Geoff Strong.