Thursday 26 September

Changes to Higher Education Policy: update

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has stepped back from reports that he is considering reintroducing caps on student places, stating that he has no formal plans to review the demand-driven system and will consult the sector as well as taking expert advice from his department. Mr Pyne has also ruled out setting minimum entry scores for students, noting that ATARs are a measure of demand rather than difficulty of entry, and clarified that while the Coalition was "opposed" to the Student Services and Amenities Fee, it was "not a priority" to remove it. The latter may be a concession to Coalition partners the Nationals, who are likely to oppose such cuts on the basis that they would disadvantage regional campuses. Yesterday's announcements had caused consternation in the sector, with Labor, the Greens and student unions slamming the move and Universities Australia noting its surprise that members had not been consulted. Other commentators, including UoN VC Professor Caroline McMillen, have noted the cited the minimal difference in success rates between low SES students and other cohorts as a reason to continue with the demand-driven system, particularly in regions of lower higher education participation.

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Quality in Higher Education

In response to the flagged review of policy around student places, higher education expert and Grattan Institute director Andrew Norton has suggested that fears about plummeting quality in the demand-driven system are misplaced, noting that there was limited empirical evidence that quality had declined overall, although there was room to improve the student experience. In the Australian Financial Review, Tim Dodd argues that market solutions should be sought to manage any issues with demand-driven funding, with student contributions to increase to match the cost of supply of a degree.

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Industry Innovation Precincts

In other policy news, universities are also anxiously awaiting news about the future of the $500 million Industry Innovation Precincts program, with no indication from Industry Minister Ian McFarlane about whether the new government will scrap the scheme. Two precincts (of a planned 10) designed to drive industry collaboration with research were announced earlier in 2013, but the future of other bids remains uncertain. Similarly, business deans are hoping that the government will intervene to help support recovery of enrolments in MBAs and business masters programs, demand for which has flatlined following an uncertain international environment and the previous government's proposed caps on tax deductions on self-education expenses.

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