Insight 11 - June 2014 - page 2

Words:AlisseGrafitti / Photography: PaulMcMillan
B
Thechallenge lies in theamountof funding.
Putsimply,universitiesare required todoa
lotof thingsotherprovidersarenot.
Ifnon-universitiesare fundedat the
sameamount, theywillbepaid for things
theydonotdo.Theircostbasewillbe
correspondingly lower, theirprofitsartificially
higher, anduniversitieswillbepricedoutof
themarket.
Not thesandstones,whichcanGucci theirway
through themarket.But theuniversities that
havedriveneducationalopportunity— the
WesternSydneys, theDeakinsand theJames
Cooks—havenosuchbrand-tagsolution.
Universitiesusuallysell themselvesshort
here, saying theirextracostscome from the
legal requirement todo research.And it is
trueeveryuniversityspendsvastsums ina
national-interest research race thatnon-unis
donotevenenter.But this isonly thestart.
Researchdemandsseriousbrainpower, and
brainpowercostsmoney.
Auniversity’s requiredworkforce isalmost
as talentedas it issickeninglyexpensive.
Then there isqualitycontrol.Universities
driveBrandAustralia inourcritical
overseaseducationmarket.Safeguardsand
protectionscostbig inuniversities, thesame
wayas theycost inanyothervital industry.
Critically,universitiesalsopourmoney into
programs thatwillneverpay,but justhave
tohappen.
Ruinouslyuneconomic languagecourses.
Vitalbuthorrificallycostlysciences.Health
disciplineswith laboratorieseatinga
mortgageaday.
And then the reallypointyend.Brilliantbut
uneconomiceducationprograms for the
disadvantaged.Entire regional sub-campuses,
runata loss toservicecommunities.
Nonon-universitywill shoulder these
burdens.And ifprofit-takersaresubsidised
to raidviableactivitiesofuniversities that
underpin them, all theseprogramswillbe
thefirst togo.
Noneofwhich is lostonChristopheLaTease,
who iswiselysignalling that thewhole
questionofcomparative funding isacomplex
one, tobeansweredcautiously, and thatnon-
universitiesshouldnotexpect tobe funded
to thesameextentasuniversitiesasgreat
enginesofnational service.
Itprobablyhelps that, asEducationMinister,
he is intenselypoliticallynumerate. Just
count thoseseats inwesternSydney.
ProfessorGregCraven
Vice-Chancellor
AustralianCatholicUniversity
There isnogovernmentmoney.Without
feediscretion,howdo theyeven fallbehind
gracefully?
Second, thegovernment iscutting likea
lawnmoweronamission.
Sadly,universitiescannotanticipate
immunity. If theirsupportdeclines, they
mustmake itup fromsomewhereor they
—andstudents—will suffer.This is reality.
Luckily, thevastmajorityofuniversities
haveneither the inclinationnor thebrand
toextractbowel-clenchingpremiums.
The realpolitical challenge for the
government is theso-calledeliteuniversities,
whichmay (ormaynot)haveboth.
This iswherePyne’sslowstrip isclever.As
hesketchesvision,hefillsdetail.Thereare
anynumberofbrakeshecoulddevelopon
sandstoneambition, should theneedarise.
Onewouldbeanundertakingofmoderation,
andona trialbasis.Orsomeprices
justificationmechanism.Oradisgorgement
ofprofits toneedy recipients, suchas regional
universitieswithNationalsMPs.Orperhaps
governmentsupportdecliningoveracertain
limit,orevenentirely.
Pynehasplentyof time to tweak theveil,
evenpost-budget.Butheunderstands: the
governmentwillwear thepainofanygreed,
while thegleamingspiressympathiseall the
way to thebank.
Theotherpartof thepackage—extensionof
support tonon-universities—needs justas
defthandling.
W
ithsomepoliticians, it’shard to
imagine them inanother job.Not
ChristopherPyne.
YoucouldeasilyseehimasaShakespearean
thespian—shortercharactersonly,
unfortunately—orpossiblyasaparticularly
persistentwasp.Buthis talent forstriptease
hashithertogoneunnoticed.
Recently, however, Pynehasbeengradually
unveilinghishighereducationpolicywithan
almosterotic, gingerycoyness. Interestingly,
theapproachmakespolitical andpolicy
sense.
Pyne’sdanceof the17veilsallowshim to
gauge reactionashegoes. Italsopermits
him to indicatebasicpolicydirections, then
refine themas issuesemerge. It’snowclear
Pyne’splan isoneof theboldest inAustralia’s
highereducationhistory, andultimatelyhas
fourplanks.
First, reducing regulation foruniversities.
Second,maintaining thedemand-driven
system.Third,deregulating theamount
studentspay.And fourth,extending
governmentsupport tonon-universities.
Feederegulation is theone thatwilldraw
attention, rather like thesuddenappearance
ofMirandaKerr.Therewillbeoutrageat
theprospectof“rolled-golddegrees”and
mountingstudentdebt.
Butevenacknowledging theseworries,
thereare twohard reasonsagovernment
wouldconsider thiscourse.
First,Australia’sgreat researchuniversities
have to research.Research isexpensive.
CHRISPYNE’SPOLICY STRIPTEASE
REVEALSHIDDEN TALENTS
VICE-CHANCELLOR’SLETTER
Thisarticlewasfirstpublished in
TheAustralian.
For further informationaboutwhat thenew federal budget
willmean for currentACU students, please seepage31.
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