The Australian | 3 July 2013
University heads are strongly divided over flagged changes to student funding with some saying they would prefer to cop the Gillard government’s $2.3 billion cuts than have student numbers capped again.
The research intensive universities, particularly the Group of Eight, support some form of capping, on “quality” grounds while the more teaching oriented universities support the current demand driven system on “accessibility” grounds. Newly appointed higher education minister Kim Carr has told The Australian that some universities would be hit harder by the efficiency dividend, particularly the large research-intensive universities such as Melbourne and Australian National University.
We are very close to meeting our 40% (it is currently 36.8%) so we are not wavering about our commitment to the target. There needs to be a reassessment of growth rates and to ensure there are high-quality degrees being produced. It is time to have a look at the whole issue of academic attainment. There is a broader social compact here about the levels of public investment and the capacity of universities and research systems to assist in meeting the great challenges of our time.
Some “re-calibration” of the uncapped, demand-driven system has been strongly supported by the Group of Eight and other research intensive universities. Ian Young, vice-chancellor of Australian National University, said it would be “sensible” to put the brakes on the demand-driven system after a few years of enormous growth.
The sector does need to pause and look at quality. Reports of exceptionally low ATARs being accepted into university needs to be looked at.
He said the money that would go to more student places could be redirected towards per-student funding “to create a better experience for the students we’ve got”. Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University, which has doubled in size in five years, said to put the brakes on the demand-driven funding system would be to punish those universities that had wholeheartedly embraced official government policy.
It’s saying to those universities that signed up to the government’s participation and equity agendas that they have to bear the cuts. The burden would go from being spread across the entire sector via the efficiency dividend on to those of us that embraced key landmark bipartisan reforms.
University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Jan Thomas said the system is only two years old and had not had enough time to bed down, particularly in regional areas with low levels of attainment.
We really have a long way to go. To suggest that we are dropping standards is to suggest that we are dealing with a population that is inherently not the same intellectual standard (as city-based students). That’s hard to accept.