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Should universities suffer to pay for school funding?

Anyone believing new tertiary education minister Craig Emerson was just minding the higher education shop until the election has been proved wrong by this weekend’s announcement of funding cuts. About…

Tertiary education minister Craig Emerson yesterday announced significant changes to higher education funding. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Anyone believing new tertiary education minister Craig Emerson was just minding the higher education shop until the election has been proved wrong by this weekend’s announcement of funding cuts.

About A$2.3 billion will be harvested from higher education and go towards schools funding reform. Ahead of the Council of Australian Government’s meeting this week, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government would use the extra funds to offer $2 for every $1 the premiers put in.

But the university cuts are significant, and not just for the amount of money involved.

The biggest policy shift is the conversion of the Student Start-up Scholarships from grants to loans. Under the current system, students receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or Abstudy are paid A$1,025 lump sums twice a year. The scholarships are intended to cover large up-front expenses such as textbooks or equipment.

From 2014, new students will have to choose between forgoing the A$1,025 or adding it to their HELP debt.

Perhaps the government plans to distinguish between “capital” investment in education, to be funded through income-contingent loans, and living expenses, to be funded through welfare payments like Youth Allowance. Inevitably, however, this reform raises questions about whether all student income support will eventually be loans rather than grants.

The government is also trimming HELP loan scheme costs by ending discounts for up-front payments and voluntary early repayments.

Under the current system, students receive a 10 per cent discount if they pay their student contribution up-front. For example, the student contribution for a business student taking out a HELP loan is A$9,792 a year. By paying up-front with the discount the price comes down A$8,813.

The discount’s rationale is that HELP lending incurs interest subsidies and the risk of bad debt, which together cost taxpayers about A$1.5 billion a year. Up-front payments limit the government’s exposure to these expenses, but they have to pay the discount’s value to universities. That’s the money the government saves with this measure.

Of course, some savings will be lost later due to increased HELP lending. But there is evidence that many people who pay up-front will still do so without the discount, so the government is likely to come out ahead with this change.

The 5 per cent voluntary repayment bonus is supposed to be an incentive to repay HELP debt early, and so also reduce interest costs and the risk that the debt will go bad. For example, a person who voluntarily repays A$1,000 extra of their HELP debt, on top of compulsory payments via the tax system, would have A$1,050 deducted from their HELP debt.

The early repayment bonus is not achieving its objectives. A few years ago, the Australian Taxation Office published data showing that most voluntary repayments were made when the debt was nearly paid off in any case.

The bonus also interacts with a design flaw in the FEE-HELP loan scheme. Full-fee postgraduates and Open Universities Australia students can take out unnecessary FEE-HELP loans and then use the bonus to repay their debt for less than the original loan amount.

Effectively, they can engineer themselves a subsidy. Getting rid of the early repayment bonus is good public policy.

The same cannot be said of an “efficiency dividend” cut to university funding of 2 per cent in 2014 and 1.25 per cent in 2015. The cuts will apply to the core tuition subsidy Commonwealth Grant Scheme, to research student funding, to equity support, and to some other programs that less directly affect students.

It is very unlikely that hundreds of millions of dollars in genuine “efficiencies” can be found by next year, so the cuts will almost certainly have negative effects on the student experience.

For undergraduates, this poor outcome could have been avoided with compensating increases to student contributions, as has occurred on all previous occasions when public funding was reduced.

A further reform announced on Saturday goes beyond higher education, affecting all tax deductions for self-education expenses. These are to be capped at $2,000 a year. This will especially affect postgraduate coursework students whose degrees are linked to their jobs, the trigger for tax deductibility.

The after-tax impact on students could easily be thousands of dollars a year, depending on course fees and marginal tax rates.

Except for the “efficiency dividend” there is at least an arguable case for each policy change. But these latest announcements add to a long list of messy, ad hoc higher education cuts without any obvious strategy to save money at least expense to public policy goals.

Frequent fiddling undermines policies that are retained as well as those that are cut, as nobody knows what will go next. Long-term decision making by universities, their staff and their students needs more policy stability than we have.

Join the conversation

97 Comments sorted by

  1. William Bennett

    Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry at Griffith University

    Universities were already cutting back teaching and research budgets before this announcement. Now we can expect even more drastic cuts. This will lead to the following:

    1. More casuals, less continuing appointments.

    2. Larger class sizes.

    3. Cuts to the number of offered courses.

    4. Less research support funding for PhD students.

    5. A decrease in course quality, as convenors are given lower sessional budgets and less funding to support course activities.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to William Bennett

      Hi William, well said!

      However, you missed the increases in VC salary packages that implementing these changes will require.

      I am reminded that the UNE VC was being paid MORE than the Prime Minister before a recent pay rise granted by the departing Chancellor increased both the salary and term of appointment for the incumbent VC. (Strange ... I thought that salaries were a function of the University Council, oh well ...)

      Well, you have to look after your mates!

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    2. Peter Bentley

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to William Bennett

      Hi William,

      Not sure about more casuals. It could translate into heavier teaching loads for continuing staff (particularly those who are not "research active") and fewer casuals. It seems counterproductive to reduce teaching done by the cheapest staff, but it is one of the few areas where unis can make immediate cost savings. Other cost containing policies, like hiring freezes or not renewing contracts, obviously also leads towards fewer casuals and fixed-term staff, resulting in more work to be done by the continuing staff group.

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  2. Tyson Adams

    Scientist and author

    Let's fund education by cutting education! Makes perfect sense!

    It will be great to teach kids better so that they can aspire to go to universities that can no longer take them.

    The last thing we want is smart people in this country. We just want to juke our international education rankings.

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  3. David Hardie

    logged in via Facebook

    Why shouldn't they?

    They have been complaining about the quality of high school graduates since, well ever.

    They should be welcoming this.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Hardie

      That is a good point.

      About 20% of first year university students drop out, which becomes a cost to everyone.

      It becomes more expensive to recruit new students than to retain them.

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    2. David Tuck

      Scientist

      In reply to David Hardie

      Because between now and the time that it takes for the proposed changes to have an effect, the universities are still going to be teaching students with the same level of aptitude but with less resources to do it. It's a bad decision for everyone who is currently enrolled in university, people who have to pay for their degrees either up front or through HECS loans just like everyone who came before them, but who will receive a lower standard of education.

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  4. Gideon Maxwell Polya

    logged in via Facebook

    University students and staff have traditionally been Labor-oriented but this further savaging of students and universities by Gillard Labor - on top of huge research cuts and the threats to academic freedom from the appalling Defence Trade Controls Bill that threatens academics with 10 years in prison for non-compliance (see "Impact of the Defence Trade Controls Bill on academic freedom": http://www.nteu.org.au/article/Impact-of-the-Defence-Trade-Controls-Bill-on-academic-freedom-13461 ) - will…

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Gideon Maxwell Polya

      Well said, Labor lost me with slugging single parents and justifying it by telling them it is to encourage them into work, this is particularly bizarre as 68% of single parents already work, and are still hit hard.

      This is just another way of hitting the poor, taking away the start up scholarships for students on Austudy (already less than the dole), and Youth Allowance, (a pittance), is going to be a big disincentive for those on low or fixed incomes, to study at all. Or we will see a move away…

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    2. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Agreed. But the poor don't count for the elite leaders of this nation who are both basically 10 pound poms.

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    3. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Gideon Maxwell Polya

      Hi Gideon, you have made a sad reflection on the Howard tertiary education policies, especially stripping $1 Billion university funding early in that government.

      The Liberal Notional Coalition prefers the working classes to be poorly educated so that their own often academically mediocre offspring have less competition for the declining number of jobs being made available in the economy by policies designed to transfer Australian assets and so opportunities to foreign owned entities.

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    4. Tim Benham

      Student of Statistics

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      You seem to be polluting the conversation with political partisanship. The figure released by the Go8 don't support you contention. In the figure 2 the real value of cwealth assistance to universities was static or increasing over the 1996 - 2010 period. If anything the election of the ALP on 2007 seems to coincide with a decline in the rate of increase shown in the 2005-07 period. See Go8 BACKGROUNDER 27.

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    5. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Agree Judith.

      This was the deal breaker. Slugging education to pay for education.

      Definitely back to voting Greens and any halfway intelligent Independent.

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    6. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      That is not the only reason why. A population with a largely 2nd form education as exists in many parts of regional Australia, or not much better quality, are unable to see through "hype" and analyse the rubbish they are fed by politicians and their supporters e.g. shock jocks and extremist journos.
      For example:-
      - the refugee debate being raised constantly is largely a way to gain votes from the xenophobic or racist elements, problems largely due to misinformation, promulgated by both parties…

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    7. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      The Opposition leader is aligned to both Cardinal Pell and with a Jesuit background, to the new Pope. How does that make him a ten pound pom, just because he was educated there?
      The new Pope is as expected an arch conservative, like Pell and you know who, don't underestimate what this means, particularly for women and possibly for science as well e.g. opposed to stem cell research and possibly also the existence of CSIRO, and thus for the direction society will take. My advice come September, leave the country.

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    8. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      Hi Caroline an excellent thorough analysis of the decline of Australian politics and lack of policy for ALL Australians from the Canberra bureaucracy and their political sycophants.

      However, I demur regarding women as political losers ... Julia Gillard won an election despite the stupidity of males Arbib et al; Anna Bligh was the first female Premier returned to office, who would have stayed there had her male advisers followed a proper political campaign rather than unsuccessfully smearing Cockup…

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    9. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Tim Benham

      Hi Tim, thank you for your considered reply. I am reminded that Howard cut $1 Billion from universities and gifted it to US research corporations, who sub-let contracts to Australian researchers at a fraction of the gift value.

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    10. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      I agree Caroline, a vote for Abbott is a vote for Pell and the arch conservative policies of the Roman church, especially with regard to womens' right to control their own bodies and reproductive function.

      Remember it took until 1948 for the Roman church to accept the heliocentric universe first proposed by Galileo about 400 years previously ... after Pius XII supported the anti-semetic Nazi regime in Germany and the Fascist regime in Italy.

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    11. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Thankyou Jack
      But you may have missed my sarcasm about women as losers. Women namely Joan Kirner, Carmen Lawrence, Anna Bligh, Kristina Kenneally and Julia dearest were all put in when the parties were pretty sure that they were going to lose- this is without fail. Perhaps you did not notice the pattern?? However you are quite right that in spite of that some of the women including Anna Bligh and Carmen Lawrence stemmed the losing tide. But that's not why they were put there, it's- if we are going to be losers let's put the losers in. Looks like they hit the jackpot this time. This is a beyond disgusting approach to women, completely beyond disgusting, the fact that some of them rose above it is only tantamount to the strength of some women. But this time the public is rubber-stamping the concept. Men are winners eh.

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    12. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Yes but as a scientist I know that since a group of scientists went to Rome to discuss science with the Polish pope in the 1980s the Catholic Church has had a different approach to science, and now accept quite modern concepts, and even have their own department! So progress has been made.
      However others living in Australia seem to have a "jet lag" in which their view from a religious point of view is stuck in a time period before the changes. This is problematic e.g. George Pell actively…

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    13. Tim Benham

      Student of Statistics

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      That sounds like a bad thing, but I don't remember it. Do you have a reference to it?

      My point remains that the data doesn't support the suggestion above that recent Federal ALP governments increase grants to universities at a greater rate than Federal Coalition ones. I'm not interested in debating the relative merits of those two parties here.

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    14. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      Hi Caroline, the sarcasm was noted in the demurral. Your history is sadly too accurate.

      In stark contrast, Hilary Clinton was regarded universally as a competent US Secretary of State who may be preparing to run for the 2016 US Presidential Campaign. Meanwhile the UK is burying Maggie Thatcher tomorrow while much of the UK is celebrating.

      We just have to face the facts in Australia, principally male unelected political party representing the best interests of party financial benefactors control the pre-selection process in the major political parties.

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    15. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      Hi Caroline ... it seems George Pell is a problem wherever his tentacles of influence extend.

      Still, politicians, the church and employers have a vested interest in maintaining an ill-educated population unable to question their distribution of largesse.

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    16. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to John Phillip

      No apparently not. "Patriots" blow up Chinese student (only child with aims to improve society) and small child a couple of days before the immigration vote giving illegal Latinos citizenship.
      Response of Alan Jones afterwards something like "Perhaps we should not allow as many foreign nationals into this country".
      Perhaps we should just blow them all up in the name of Australia?

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    17. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to John Phillip

      Obviously my assertion that the bombers were probably "patriotically" in their minds making a protest against the imminent immigration bill was quite wrong. That bill will legitimise the citizenship of the millions of illegal Latinos.
      The fact that afterwards Jones said something along the lines of perhaps we need to keep more foreigners out to prevent this stuff hit a note.
      Did Jones may have jumped to the same conclusion as me, that it was red-necked terrorism protesting about the bill?
      Anyhow that is obviously not the scenario, it is more like the gross stupidity of youth scenario.

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    18. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      I think it's looking increasingly like militant islam sucking in these kids, winding them up with its poison, upskilling them with terrorist techniques and letting them loose on any community that some mad mullah thinks is the 'heart of the infidel'. Sure, gross stupidity of youth is part of it but the shit that is militant islam is the key.

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  5. Marilyn Shepherd

    pensioner

    They could save all the money needed to keep unis. going and schools if they stop wasting $2 billion a year jailing innocent human beings.

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      If they don't 'jail' them then university funds will be re-directed into providing the inevitable hordes of 'asylum' seekers with social housing, English lessons and various other forms of financial assistance to 'settle in' to Australia.

      No thanks Marilyn - let's just leave them in 'jail' ;-)

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Well said Marilyn, I think the cost is about $500 million per year for Labor to implement the Liberal Party demonisation policy against our commitments under international treaty obligations.

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  6. Lincoln Fung

    Economist

    We have seen efficiency dividends being applied to APS and universities and sometimes with higher rates, we have never seen efficiency dividends applied to federal politicians pays. To the contrary, their pay have increased exponentially in recent years, in the guise of being determined by an independent tribunal. Why didn't the government use the same independent reward tribunal to determine the pay increases of APS and university employees?

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    1. Juan Vesa

      student

      In reply to Lincoln Fung

      kind of reminds me of a ceo getting fat bonuses for cutting costs by sacking workers. not quite the same scale of course but the model is the same. Government Inc.

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  7. Garry Baker

    researcher

    The record shows that Emmerson follows the money trail, plain and simple. Whereas nation building exercises are unimportant. Indeed, almost a mirror of the best traditions of the Liberal track record. Rake in the cash, or shift the spending of it to new and popular projects at all costs. To wit, he's a firm advocate of the undeclared "sell Australia" program, where any purchase by a foreign entity falling under a trigger point of $244 million, need not be reported to the FIRB - consequently, his…

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    1. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Garry Baker

      Here here!
      The Foreign Investment Review Board was greatly weakened by Howard who didn't like the fact that the ALP involved it in conservation debates, and Howard subsequently ensured Mitsubishi reversed its decision to no longer be involved in old growth logging in Tasmania, and set the destructive RFAs in concrete. Now we have of all people the king of the Queensland rednecks, Barnaby Joyce, realising that is a disaster for the sell-off of our countryside. Dig it up, sell it off, no stopping…

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      Don't mention the one and one quarter Trillion dollars of private debt which prevents Australians from investing in their own country.
      Who created this dispossession throught debt?
      The very people you will be voting into power in September.
      Still the GFC will finally be arriving care of that private debt and the Abbott austerity so there won't be any money to fight over.
      Then the church will step in to take its rightful place as the protection and guide of the people, who were misled and betrayed by godless secular and finally defeated democracy (with a little bit of sabotage from the clerics).
      Rising like a phoenix from the ashes.
      That'll learn ya!

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    3. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to James Hill

      Wonderful. Yes, the problem of private debt is the real problem of debt in this country, but I have not got a lot of info about how much capital the companies have got to pay it back at short notice as required. I don't believe there will be a crash as rapidly as you do, and I don't have enough information to know about the stability of Australian companies with multi-million dollar debts. Therefore they may just as well be capable from what I know of paying it all back on request. Still it is…

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  8. Geoff Hanmer

    Director ARINA Hayball

    We could be over analyzing here. The whole idea of taking money from universities and giving it to schools is just bonkers any way you slice it.

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    1. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Geoff Hanmer

      Pink Floyd:
      "The Wall.... we don't need no education, we don't need no false control"
      A rock star for Schools Minister.
      Might be that simple.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Hi Gavin, this may be the case. But how about ensuring kindergarten and primary school provide some measurable educational outcomes like reading skills shown by Oral Reading Fluency, basic Maths skills by tables tests, both requirements for an educational tool kit for all students.

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    2. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      On this analysis the most important level of education is early school, but I don't think it would be appropriate to have a formal testing regime at that level.

      Primary and early secondary schools do provide measurable educational outcomes, as demonstrated by Naplan tests.

      It is tertiary education which doesn't provide measurable educational outcomes in this sense.

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    3. Darryl Coulthard

      university worker

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I totally agree that on any analysis, early education is more important than later education. (I can't say I have the same managerialist faith in the measurement of 'educational outcomes, however). So yes, early education is more important but later education is still important. However what sticks most in my craw is firstly, the missed opportunity to make education more equitable and take away the subsidies to the richly funded schools (surely on managerialist grounds they should be penalised for their high costs in service provision in any case). Labor is simply pathetic and has lost any positive grounds for voting for it.

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    4. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to Darryl Coulthard

      Yep $$ from public university and working people trying to get educated to Catholic and Independent private schools. Sucks.
      Last week young woman in the lay-by department stood there in abject embarrassment because she couldn't calculate 10% of $65.50. I gave her a minute but she solved it, bringing out the calculator.
      People don't realise that in regional areas traditionally it is more important that you have muscles in your arms than in your brains. Second form standard is not unusual in regional areas as the norm for older people. But somehow we also seem to be failing the younger ones, and also undoubtedly the Aboriginal community.
      There is no doubt something desperately needs to be done.
      But they have chosen the wrong path.

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  9. Trevor McGrath

    uneducated twit

    Even if the Unis do nothing else apart from raise fees the $2 billion divided by 1,094,672 students equalls $228 per course or $1827 per year increase. Cheers.

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  10. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Not just Craig Emerson - this is a cabinet decision and they've been working it out for months.

    As for the basic idea - the rearrangement of priorities to redress the increasingly poor performance of school education - I think most university folks would accept the notion, given discussion here in recent months about providing essentially remedial eduction in Universities.

    I am no big fan of the way the teriary sector spends its money - too much on administration and senior salaries - too many…

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      There is also the issue of why has the country got so many university graduates, but a skills shortage.

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    2. David Tuck

      Scientist

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Because people with university degrees went to uni because they don't want to work in a mine perhaps?

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    3. David Tuck

      Scientist

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      That's just the list of jobs for which people can qualify for 457 visas, it doesn't say which jobs are actually in demand. There are plenty of occupations on that list that people already in Australia would be happy to fill. In my field for instance, there aren't that many positions being advertised for psychologists, but that is on the list for 457 visas. 457 visas are just another way of making it easier for employers to undercut the workplace security of Australian workers by bringing in outside labour. The great irony involved with this of course is that after undermining people's rights in the workplace, industry then tries to justify it by saying that there aren't enough people to fill the positions. You said yourself that there are plenty of university graduates in Australia. Why do we need so many people coming in on 457 visas if that is the case?

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    4. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Universities are more concerned about real estate than education.
      Wherever they are located the student population overwhelms the housing stocks driving up the rents and mortgages, dooming single income families to banishment.
      And the fees themselves are simply a means to create more dependence upon borrowed money for the pupose of jacking up interest rates.
      What, pray tell, has sany of this to do with education, except to ensure that no "education" is provided to allow such an understanding of the financial circumstances to develop at all.
      So you call all go back to sleep.

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Tuck

      Governments need to maintain industry, because they need the revenue coming in from industry.

      But if the budget of a government comes under pressure, it is a lot less expensive for that government to import ready trained labour for industry, than to pay for the education and training of a wokforce from within the country.

      Perhaps universities and the education system in general should be more aware of that, because I think that is now occurring.

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    6. David Tuck

      Scientist

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Yes, but if the industry that the people who are coming from overseas are working for is mostly overseas owned and operated, where is the benefit for Australia/Australians? The mining sector is 83% overseas owned and operated, if the profits are mostly going overseas then how much does it really help?

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Tuck

      It is occurring on a micro scale when a company carries out casualisation of their workforce.

      They hire people when needed, and don’t hire people when they are not needed.

      The company reduces its short term costs by doing this (although it is damaging in the longer term), but on a national scale, there has been a large increase in foreign workers into the country who can be quickly employed and dismissed as required, and a gradual decrease in government expenditure on education and training of the local population.

      The government is reducing its short term costs by bringing in ready trained foreign workers for industry instead of spending money on training the local population, (although it is damaging in the longer term).

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    8. William Raper

      Retired

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Well said Mr. Ormonde!

      An addition to your line of thought - I have heard from two reasonably reliable sources that at least some Universities now have more admin staff than teaching staff, and on average they are paid more! Parkinson found similar anomalies in the British armed forces about 80 years ago!

      Surely the efficiency dividends etc could easily be charged to that area? Could also ease the workload of teaching staff who have to to fill in the admin's many unnecessary forms!

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    9. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to William Raper

      Universities do indeed employ more general staff than academic staff. In 2011 universities employed 41,090 full time equivalent academic staff and 54,783 general staff. How bad one considers this depends on how much administration one wants academic staff to do and how individualised, flexible and responsive one wants administration to be.

      But academic staff get paid much more than general staff. In 2011 universities spent $6.723 billion on academic employee benefits, which works out at $163,637 per full time equivalent academic. They spent $5.911 billion on general staff, which is $107,910 per staff member.

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    10. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to William Raper

      Hi William ... the ratio is not too large a mere 3.5 to 1, or thereabouts ... just enough to ensure that research grant requirements are met without disturbing the weekly sporting session at the gym, the long smokos and extended lunches that appear to have become de rigor.

      It has long been recognised that many academic reputations have been built by Research Assistants and Technicians, often without adequate acknowledgement of their input.

      Sadly, the number of practising academics is only a small proportion of the employed PhDs, in my experience.

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    11. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      G'day Gavin,

      It's not just the numbers of academics versus general staff, it's the amount of administrative work that academic staff are required to do on top of - or instead of - the teaching.

      It creeps up like rust this bureaucracy business. And all of it essential and totally necessary like all bureaucracies.

      I think they are over-managed, with cumbersome administrative systems which get in the way of teaching and research. I'd include the grants system in that as well. I have a…

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    12. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Hi Peter

      Of course several have tried, none with much success. I recall a Boston Consulting report into the University of Sydney's administration a decade or so ago. The loudest objections to big cuts to administration were not from the administrators who would have lost their jobs, but from the academics who would have lost their customised administrative support and services.

      I'd be interested in any suggestion you may have to improve the research grants process, which is concerning several…

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    13. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      More generously Gavin I'd be seeing the reaction of academic staff to to the loss of support staff as being a very sensible apprehension of the inevitable transfer of these functions over to them.

      This takes more than just cuts and cost-savings - it takes a complete overhaul of how administration operates and how to reduce the overburden while achieving better (measured) outcomes. Not just re-allocating an ever increasing administrative burden. It's very costly way to save money by having…

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    14. William Raper

      Retired

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, you could not have stated the problem and it's solution better!

      Some 30 years ago, as a Research Scientist in CSIRO, I suffered the same problems that academics are suffering now. I believe that they stemmed from not unreasonable unreasonable requests for accountability, BUT (of course) they were designed and imposed by bureaucrats. I lost count of the number of times I had to supply the same information on different forms to them.

      When I joined the organisation bureaucrats were there to serve the scientists, then the position gradually reversed.

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    15. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The Boston Consulting report proposed cutting administrative functions, and therefore the administrators that supported them, not transferring administration from administrators to academics.

      Few in universities, least of all at the University of Sydney, would concede that its processes are essentially identical to any other university's. Even worse, no faculty within the U of S would concede that its administrative processes are essentially identical to any other faculty in the university. So each faculty and most schools insist on their own processes for, for example, timetabling classes.

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    16. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Yes Gavin - and I'd be suggesting this specialism this exceptionalism is at the core of the problem.

      Yes timetabling is a localised resource allocation decision - but the process is identical - the resources are different. Best done locally. But there can be a smart system that provides the framework.

      Universities do not get a global reputation for the calibre of their administrations. There are no statues to the fellas who balanced the budgets. These are processes not outcomes.

      And the outcomes are all to do with teaching and research excellence. And I'd suggest that having an excellent administrative system is in fact no less essential if unsung.

      Can you imagine how good Albert Einstein was at timetabling?

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    17. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I think most Australian universities have 1 timetabling information system (Syllabus Plus is common). If timetabling is done centrally it can be done fairly cheaply, with 2 to 3 staff for a big university. If all teaching space is allocated centrally the university also saves not only room allocation staff but also space since classrooms have higher occupancy rates.

      However, if a university concedes that timetabling be done locally another 20 to 30 staff are needed for a big university. This is usually accompanied by local allocation of teaching space which increases staff even more and results in class room occupancies from 20% to 30% of the time reasonably available for teaching.

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    18. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Hi Gavin,
      Let me assure you that I have no "customised administrative or service support" whatsoever - not even a secretary. I do the bulk of my own and my group's secretarial, administrative and service work; a smaller amount is undertaken by general school support staff who are unable to handle all the requirements in our School. I understand many of my colleagues are in a similar position - we cannot get any more "economically efficient" than we already are. If I am to translate my experience…

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    19. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to John Canning

      By customised administrative support I do not mean dedicated administrative support such as secretaries, executive assistants and other helpmates. As I pointed out in other posts in this thread, by customised administrative support I mean any administrative support or service that has to be varied by department, school or faculty.

      I don't know the details at the University of Sydney, but this typically includes enrolment processes that differ by school, decentralised timetabling and examinations…

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    20. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to John Canning

      Hi John, an excellent contribution and analysis of back to the future for Australian education.

      However, I would demur that having a professor earning about $100/hour doing secretarial work is a poor use of resources when the same work could be done by a competent (senior?) secretary for $30/hour. This example of economic thinking comes from legal practices.

      No R&D, no future.

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    21. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Hi Gavin,

      I appreciate your standpoint and can see where you come from.

      Data always needs to be treated and interpreted with care - many of our general staff are performing work that would fit into the academic domain such as maintaining laboratory facilities and training and the like and many have graduate or PhD degrees to reflect the level of work. Therefore if staff are to be broken down then one needs to go further and break them into general staff of an academic nature and other more…

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    22. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Absolutely correct Peter - outcomes have indeed often been displaced by process "efficiency dividends". For example, outcomes are now interpreted by an "impact process" which in most cases has little substance other than conformation to a certain view of what is arguably peer impact rather than risk and novelty. Insisting on process as a determinant means it becomes core and creativity originality and risk now service the process instead of the other way around. It has been observed that many support staff no longer see it a priority to service academics but rather the processes imposed by local heads.

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    23. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to David Tuck

      I find it astounding to be told that our outstanding overseas post doc researchers who have been here for more than 4 years cannot get residency whilst someone doing a few week hair dressing course can...

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    24. Caroline Copley

      student

      In reply to John Canning

      Not as astounding as if you read the list of "approved" courses for post-graduate education at university that are approved for Austudy purposes. The Howard government to his credit (which I rarely do in his case) increased the provisions where someone doing a university course can actually be at postgrad level rather than having to win a scholarship past degree level. BUT and this is a big but, last time I looked for the possibility of returning to full-time study using this program, in science, there were very limited science approvals. The types of courses are very restricted.
      However if you want to do a Masters in Acupuncture, you are supported one hundred percent. Oh yes, and Theology.
      Might have changed since I last looked at it during the Rudd era, but it was a horror list then in terms of what the government felt was a priority for this country.

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  11. Tim Comber

    logged in via Facebook

    I have a rather paranoid theory that the long term goal of both parties is to privatise tertiary education. Then instead of giving money to TAFE and Uni the government can tax the private education providers. Of course they cannot dismantle TAFE and Uni in one fell swoop as the public would cotton on (hopefully) and raise a stink. However this way eventually private providers will be seen as saviours of the failing tertiary sector. Rich kids will go overseas for a real education and the poorer people will get just enough education to do their jobs.

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Tim Comber

      Tim from what I understand when Labor won government I believe it had and did invest dollars into our education system and much in tertiary education. I feel that the primary school situation is urgently in need of this new injection of funding. Never before have schools benefited so much from any other government.
      This government has done more than the funding, the NAPLAN testing I believe has put on the map once again the need to measure outcomes to have checks and balances to ensure methodologies are effective. The comment to sack ineffective teachers the lack of effective discipline measures for those very few children who find it difficult to respect authority and conform to the community of school is making it more difficult for teachers and students. Being a teacher is not an easy task and is made more difficult by that lack of the important discipline options that are no longer available for those few students who can disrupt the many.

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  12. Cameron Wheatley

    Student

    Or how bout we take a tiny proportion of the billions of dollars of handouts and subsidies given to the mining industry each year?

    I guess the poor just aren't scary enough because they can't fund multi-million dollar television propaganda campaigns....

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    1. David Tuck

      Scientist

      In reply to Cameron Wheatley

      It amazes me that they can be cutting that much money from universities when our economy is now so heavily dominated by the services sector. How shortsighted when 1st world countries rely on an educated population in order to fill all of the job positions related to services sector jobs.

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    2. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Cameron Wheatley

      Ever so true but do you know what those subsidies are?

      Look what it took for the British to demand truth from it's media and take steps to attempt to stop abuse of power what will it take for other countries to follow suit.

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  13. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    There are higher priorities for cuts than universities, for example negative gearing and baby bonuses. Perhaps even the dead line for NBN could be extended a little to free up some funds.

    But if universities have to cough up then courses that endow skills that are not in demand and are not necessary for long term economic property should be targeted, e.g. arts, law, business, economics.

    Science and engineering degrees, skills that Australia's future economic prosperity are critically dependent, should be protected at all costs.

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  14. John Harrison

    Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

    SA and WA get a pittance from Gonski because their school systems are well run; will their universities get a comensurate reduction in the 2% "efficiency dividend", or will their universities cop the full impost? More "coercive federalism"?

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to John Harrison

      John Greg Boyles has a good point. I for one am in favour of 11% GST surely that would assist.

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  15. Tony Grant

    Student

    No cutbacks to universities...we have a vast land which is gouged by international and national companies...paying tax when the wish, the 7 years itch!

    If we want a grand nation we have to have a greater say in our nation wealth..resources!

    When we realise this point all financial issues fall by the side, yes, we Australians have to take a "nationalist stand" even Bob Katter understands this and not cow-tow to mining lobby groups that assist in the outing of a PM!

    Why should so few get all the cake?

    We as a nation must support governments that demand a bigger slice of the cake!

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  16. margaret m

    old lady

    I have a better idea lets tell the Politicians all parties and the big business media that we want taxes to be increased just enough to fund this whole education issue without any cuts. Problem solved I'm on approx $50,000 a year lots of commitments but am happy to contribute ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE INTERSTED.
    Or is all we can do is attack the government for attempting to bring about a much needed change while the media along with MR Abbbott critise the government for whatever it does if ti cuts funding it is wrong if it invests it is wrong if it sneezes it is wrong.
    STOP is our country our children worth investing in well the LIBERAL COUNTRY PARTIES & BIG BUSINESS want to minimise THEIR taxes I say we can invest a little more and if it means paying off debt or paying more taxes lets do it. BUT TO BRING SANITY BACK INTO THE ARGUMENT WE NEED TO VOICE IT TO OUR POLITICIANS AND MEDIA.

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  17. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    The assistance arrangements for less-well-off students look a bit like a dogs' breakfast and it's good to have some explanations. And it would also be good to find out what percentage of commonwealth funding the 2 billion over x years is. Surely there is room to trim admin hours complained about by uni staff , and as others have said the explosion of numbers in so-called tutorials has been happening over decades.

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  18. Eriks Velins

    Retired

    I am disappointed that the billions spent during the last few years on school infrastructure did not arrest the ongoing decline in our education standards. Should we not now systematically re-educate our teachers and discard those not meeting standards as our international competitors have already done or are doing? How much longer should we tolerate this decline? Or shall we waste these additional billions too?

    Reduction in university grants appears to me as an opportunity to re-examine the…

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Eriks Velins

      Hi Eriks, I think you may be addressing the tail end of the dog. There will be low academic standards while ever the essential academic tool s are denied to the students surveyed. Unless primary kids graduate into secondary school being able to read fluently, about 400words/minute, and instant recognition of times tables, then those students will have difficulties.

      Fix the foundations of the structure and that structure will stand firm instead of falling over.

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  19. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    More distance education please, provided by the best teachers via the NBN, at the least cost. And sell the university campuses, they are just about real estate anyway.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to James Hill

      Hi James, you are thinking ahead of your time.

      About 10 years ago a group of law students speculated over coffee that as the university owned the copyright of the lecture notes, then it was likely that permanent fulltime academic staff would be made redundant and replaced by casual short term contract junior staff to make the annual update to the lecture notes.

      The technology already exists, only the administrators have failed to see the opportunity to cut academic staff numbers.

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