Heres your entitlement – mind where you put it

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					Here’s your entitlement – mind where you put it
25 May 09 by John Ross

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The federal government has confirmed that TAFEs and private providers are to be excluded from the
entitlement-based higher education system, at least for the time being. The Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations said the government intended to limit the new system to Table A or
public higher education providers.

Higher education providers not listed on Table A, including TAFE institutes, are regarded as private higher
education providers.

This means that from 2012, when the new system starts, prospective students will only be able to take
their entitlements to the 37 public universities, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and
possibly the University of Notre Dame Australia.

But the door hasn’t been completely closed to others. One of the budget papers, ‘Transforming Australia’s
higher education system’, said the government would “consult with private providers about their future
role in a demand-driven system”.

This approach is consistent with the Bradley panel’s recommendation. Bradley’s report said the
entitlement system should “apply initially only to public universities, but would be extended to other
approved providers when new regulatory arrangements are in place”.

However, education minister Julia Gillard has been ambiguous about which institutions would be brought
on board. When asked whether TAFEs and other providers would help meet the new degree completion
target at a press conference in Canberra, Gillard dodged the question. “In the current days there are some
TAFEs that deliver bachelor degrees,” she said.

“What that means is that there isn’t a clear and hard line between the offerings of VET institutions and

In this issue of Campus Review, Andrew Norton, research fellow with the Centre for Independent Studies,
says excluding TAFEs and private providers would arbitrarily discriminate against their students “while
undermining the government’s own education policy objectives”. Norton argues such an approach would
put the brakes on participation and equitable access, and help public universities poach students from
TAFEs, private providers and dual-sector universities.

The approach also appears contrary to one of the government’s central policy themes – moving on from the
public-private argument. “It is time for all of us to recognise that the old-style education debates need to
be updated,” Gillard wrote a year ago in a Sydney Morning Herald op ed entitled ‘No more public vs private

And it appears contrary to federal government moves to encourage competition in the VET sector, and to
bring the higher education and VET sectors closer together.

“Why would they be doing that at the same time as setting up a VET system in which there’s no
differentiation between public and private providers, and in which they’re trying to foster and encourage
private providers to take a bigger share?” asked Dr Leesa Wheelahan, senior lecturer in adult and
vocational education at Griffith.

“They’ve set up a new ministerial council, they’ve got this new regulatory body which is going to
encompass VET in a few years, they’re going to get Skills Australia to start giving advice on higher
education in a few years – why would they be doing all that, and yet have completely different funding
models for the two sectors in terms of the public-private mix?”

Wheelahan said the government would find it easier to meet its equity targets if it involved TAFEs, because
of the learning environment and support available at TAFE. “They could do it by encouraging universities to
partner with TAFEs, or directly funding TAFEs themselves,” she said. But TAFEs could have problems

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attracting students in an entitlement-based system where their fees were the same as those charged by
the more prestigious universities.

The approach also raises the problem of what to do with the Commonwealth-supported higher education
places already provided by TAFEs and private providers. Especially if these providers are giving people the
sorts of skills and knowledge that the country really needs. For example, Avondale College and Holmesglen
Institute of TAFE both have approval to offer Commonwealth-supported places in the national priority area
of nursing.

“It is in the government’s gift to decide whether they will allocate public places to institutions or not – and
they have done so with Holmesglen. The previous government did with a whole bunch of others – Avondale
College, Tabor College and Notre Dame, which is a private university,” said Gavin Moodie, principal policy
adviser at Griffith.

Norton told Campus Review that the exclusion of TAFEs and private providers was a cost-saving measure.
“Under the current system we’ve already got 30,000 students willing to pay full fees for these courses, so
why take on the cost of subsidising them?

“This is always the problem in moving into a demand-driven system when you’ve already got people who
are paying full fees. Before you start adding extra students, you’ve got to start subsidising thousands of
people who are paying fees.”

Wheelahan said she thought the government could also be trying to avoid scaring the horses, given that
some universities may already be nervous about what’s essentially an untried system. They could be
spooked by the idea of competing with private providers over their core business. “The politics are fairly
tricky. Maybe they’re softening up the field – running it up the pole and just letting it run for a while, as a
way of it becoming less of a big innovation.”

But the executive officer with the Council of Private Higher Education, Adrian McComb, stressed that the
government had made an explicit commitment to consult private providers about their role in the new
system. “If students are to drive demand, I can’t see any arguments that make sense for denying support to
students who choose to enrol with private providers,” he said.

“A key observation in the Bradley review was that the public-private divide is no longer a sensible
distinction. To achieve the objectives of increased higher education participation and addressing
disadvantage, the whole sector needs to be engaged.”

Participation targets feasible without private help

Public universities could have the scope to meet the government’s 2025 completion targets without help
from TAFEs or private providers, according to Gavin Moodie of Griffith University. Many universities are
relatively small and keen to expand despite the limited returns from capped student fees, Moodie told
Campus Review.

“All of that growth could happen at relatively modest cost in the new generation universities and the outer
metropolitan campuses of the better established universities – and of course there’s a lot of scope in
regional campuses,” he said.

Moodie said sandstone universities would be reluctant to expand their domestic intake, given the limited
income from local students. “Indeed, most of them shouldn’t expand because they should be increasing
their resource intensity – not their resource volume overall,” he said.

“But the Go8 are only a minority of all universities. And although you might think the University of Western
Sydney or Victoria University, for example, are big enough, if they wanted to expand, they could.

“Regional campuses have capacity for expansion, too. Monash has Gippsland and Frankston campuses and
also Berwick, which is under capacity and could easily be expanded if the demand were there. USQ and
Sydney have campuses in the sticks that could easily be expanded. CQU has campuses in Brisbane, Sydney
and Melbourne – admittedly only international, but there’s no reason they couldn’t take domestics. There’s
a whole bunch which would want to expand just to increase their viability.”

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Swinburne University has confirmed that it wants to expand despite already being “the most over-enrolled
university in Australia, or very close to it”. Soon after the Bradley report was released, vice-chancellor
Professor Ian Young said he saw the recommended student demand-driven system as an opportunity to
expand. “My expectation is we’ll want to try and grow as a result of this,” he said.

Griffith University’s Dr Leesa Wheelahan said the government could save a lot of money by avoiding the
need to build new campuses. “It would be enormously expensive if they were to establish new universities.
It would be cheaper to use existing institutions. TAFE’s got infrastructure, particularly in the regions.”

TAFEs losing two ways

TAFEs are the two-way losers of student-centred reform. In the new demand-driven VET system starting
soon in Victoria – and already operating across the country in the Productivity Places Program – TAFEs are
finding their operations completely opened up to competition from private providers. Meanwhile, under
the approaching demand-driven higher education system, they’re not allowed to compete.

In other words, while TAFE’s turf is being opened up to all-comers, they’re being barred from going out and
playing in somebody else’s patch. And ironically, it’s because they’re defined as private providers.

To rub salt into the wounds, a new National Centre for Vocational Education Research issues paper has
highlighted that TAFEs could make much more money from publicly funded associate degrees than from
their traditional VET diplomas and advanced diplomas. “Funding levels per student are considerably higher
in higher education than VET,” the report found.

“If TAFEs had a choice between offering a higher education qualification and a VET qualification, they’d be
mad not to offer the higher educatio qualification because the funding rate’s higher,” report co-author
Leesa Wheelahan told CR.

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