5 August, 2012The Grattan Institute's Report, Graduate Winners, will help to further stimulate much-needed discussion on a sustainable funding model for Australian universities but the proposal is unlikely to receive support from the broader community, according to Australia's peak body representing the university sector.
"While there is logic in attempting to identify the respective public/private benefit, the fundamental flaw in the proposal is the application of a very narrow and theoretical definition of public benefit," said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia.
"What this report fails to acknowledge is the magnitude of the national return on public investment in universities, including increased productivity, a highly-skilled and educated workforce, the creation of industries and technology needed for long-term economic diversification and the human capacity for making much needed medical and scientific discoveries.
"All of these things are critical to Australia maintaining a strong economy and the maintenance of our future well-being," Ms Robinson said.
"If the public benefits were as limited as the report suggests, governments in China, India, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and elsewhere would not be accelerating massive investments in their higher education systems as drivers of economic growth.
"The policy proposes shifting the cost of a university education from government to students without increasing the overall university investment. In doing so it rejects repeated study findings of substantial under-investment in universities and the fact that Australia has one of the lowest levels of public investment in universities in the OECD.
"It also fails to address the urgent need expressed by industry, governments and, most recently, the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, for a substantial increase in the number of people with higher education qualifications.
"With Australian productivity recently ranked 50 out of 51 countries just ahead of Botswana, the demand for up-skilling greater than ever, and given the huge investments being made by our competitors in their own higher education systems, it is a strange time to be seeking to erect barriers to higher education," Ms Robinson said.
The Report proposes a new public interest test for government investment in higher education that would see $3 billion (in 2016-17) being transferred from government to families and students.
"This would equate to at least an additional 50 per cent increase in student fees without there being any increase to the overall investment in Australia's university system.
"Recent economic modelling shows that demand for high skilled jobs will be at 1.6 times the rate of lower skilled occupations by the next decade. These skills are needed to meet the demands of the resources boom, to reshape our declining manufacturing base and to build the industries of the future.
"Universities are at the centre of that task," Ms Robinson concluded.