Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties fear cuts to funded post­grad places

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­

Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties fear fur­ther cuts to their pub­licly funded stu­dent num­bers.

Fol­low­ing the freez­ing last De­cem­ber of gov­ern­ment fund­ing for bach­e­lor’s de­grees, which leaves in­sti­tu­tions look­ing to ex­pand or even main­tain stu­dent num­bers fac­ing a cut in real-terms fund­ing, an ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment dis­cus­sion pa­per now pro­poses fresh ap­proaches to the al­lo­ca­tion of Com­mon­wealth-sup­ported places, or CSPs, for post­grad­u­ate pro­grammes and sub- bach­e­lor’s cour­ses. These sub­si­dies are dis­trib­uted in an ad hoc man­ner re­flect­ing his­tor­i­cal deals with in­di­vid­ual in­sti­tu­tions.

Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties have both sub­sidised and full-fee-pay­ing stu­dents at these lev­els – un­like un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grammes, in which providers of­fer­ing CSPs can­not en­rol full-fee do­mes­tic stu­dents. There is lit­tle clar­ity around why some in­sti­tu­tions re­ceive more sub­sidised post­grad­u­ate places than oth­ers, or why some stu­dents pay tens of thou­sands of dol­lars less than class­mates on the same cour­ses.

The new pa­per sug­gests ways of im­prov­ing clar­ity, say­ing sub­sidised places could be al­lo­cated us­ing met­rics such as stu­dent sat­is­fac­tion, grad­u­ate out­comes or ad­mis­sion rates for dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents.

But the pa­per also pro­poses a 5 per cent re­duc­tion in each univer­sity’s al­lo­ca­tion of com­menc­ing places in post­grad­u­ate, sub-bach­e­lor’s and en­abling pro­grammes, with­out spec­i­fy­ing what would hap­pen to the dis­carded places or whether they would in­clude CSPs.

Some univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors have in­ter­preted this as an in­ten­tion to es­tab­lish a re­al­lo­ca­tion pool, with places gar­nered through the 5 per cent cut to be re­dis­tributed ac­cord­ing to yet-to-be-de­ter­mined cri­te­ria.

But oth­ers fear that the mech­a­nism will be used to fur­ther cut fund­ing for grad­u­ate study, after the gov­ern­ment re­vealed plans to jet­ti­son 3,000 post­grad­u­ate CSPs in its 2017 bud­get – cit­ing un­used al­lo­ca­tions to jus­tify this cut, even though some uni­ver­si­ties had ov­eren­rolled.

The Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Post­grad­u­ate As­so­ci­a­tions said the con­sul­ta­tion process was be­ing used to con­struct a hit list for the 2017 cut. “The depart­ment is do­ing the dirty work of con­duct­ing a re­view to de­cide which post­grad­u­ate cour­ses will fall vic­tim,” it said.

“While in gen­eral it is good to ex­am­ine higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and fund­ing al­lo­ca­tions, Capa is cau­tious given the cuts to uni­ver­si­ties over the past year.”

The pa­per has been seen along­side the gov­ern­ment’s A$135 mil­lion (£76 mil­lion) fund­ing pack­age for re­gional univer­sity study which, it later emerged, was to be funded through un­spec­i­fied cuts to re­search fund­ing.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion sought fur­ther de­tails on the plans for post­grad­u­ate place al­lo­ca­tion. An ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment spokesman said that the pa­per was not propos­ing to cut the over­all num­ber of places, but did not say whether there would be any change to CSPs.

A se­nior univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor said he ex­pected CSPs to be fur­ther re­duced. “As a sec­tor we have to wait and see how this pans out,” he said.

Ad­min­is­tra­tive staff at an­other univer­sity said sus­pi­cion was jus­ti­fied given the pa­per’s lack of guar­an­tees. “Growth will be the key is­sue for the sec­tor,” one said.

“You’ll al­ways get a few in­sti­tu­tions that un­der-en­rol or over-en­rol. The real is­sue is whether we value grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion as a means of en­abling peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate fully

in the work­force. When the gov­ern­ment made the first tranche of cuts it said it would look at fu­ture mech­a­nisms for growth. What we’ve got in­stead is fu­ture mech­a­nisms for re­dis­tri­bu­tion, and no net growth.”

Trimmed a re­view will de­cide on which post­grad­u­ate cour­ses to cut

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