Monday, November 12, 2012

DO the maths on study resource

The rapid rollout over the past year of massive open online university courses, or MOOCs, illustrates how university education is becoming a global commodity. While ­Australian universities face pressure to launch online courses, the Gillard government is aiming to increase the quality of university teaching and research. One of the goals listed in the Asian Century white paper released in late October was that 10 of our universities would be in the world’s top 100 and our school system would be in the world’s top five by 2025.

But universities are struggling to accommodate the surge in student numbers since the government relaxed restrictions on place numbers in 2010 as a result of the Bradley review in 2008. The Gillard government argues that funding for ­universities has increased. An Ernst & Young report released in July showed funding per student was $2000 higher in 2013 than in 2008. But the government will not loosen the ­antiquated regulations on fees that universities can charge ­students. Instead the talk is about extra government spending on education, such as the $6.5 billion in extra funding that the Gonski report recommended for schools.

Former head of the Commonwealth public service Mike Keating has raised the provocative idea that rather than increasing schools funding, we should cut it. Mr Keating’s belief that we are wasting money on schools and should divert the funds to vocational training has some support. Labor MP and former ANU economics professor Andrew Leigh and ANU researcher Chris Ryan showed in a 2009 study that despite a 10 per cent increase in real per-child school ­expenditure between 1975 and 1998, which paid for smaller class sizes, literacy and numeracy performance declined.As the gap between tax revenue and spending widens, it’s time to re-examine such ideas, because finding extra funds to deliver on the education goals in the Asian Century white paper will be difficult indeed. In July, Fred Hilmer, the University of NSW’s vice-chancellor and chairman of the group of eight universities, said if his university could charge students in better paid professional courses such as law and medicine 25 per cent more, the university would raise $30 million a year.If the government is serious about creating elite universities and high quality schools, it should change the present system of capping university fees and give them more market flexibility.

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