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The Demand-Driven University Sector

Since 2012 course places have been opened to a greater number of prospective students. The demand-driven nature of our Universities currently does not set a limit for places in University, as it did prior to the introduction of uncapped places. The opposite, a supply-driven model, allows the government to cap funding and essentially limit the amount of places that courses can offer to students.

The current government commissioned a review into the demand-driven system, with the main hope that they would be able to push the higher education sector into a more restrictive privatised model, closer to a supply-driven model.

The review came out with many positive findings, and concluded “there is no persuasive case for returning to the ‘capped’ system, and that the demand driven system should be retained, expanded and improved”. The review found alongside numerous benefits an increase in low-SES participation, greater participation from Indigenous Australians, and an equivalent of 100,000 more full-time students studying a University degree compared to the capped system.

The report does paint an overly optimistic view of the state of higher education at the moment. The quality of education that remains in universities despite the cuts and poor management of these universities is to the credit of overworked academics and general staff. However, it is becoming gradually harder for staff to fill these gaps caused by job losses and increased casualisation.

Many of the recommendations were guided by the conservative scope that the review was provided with. The review, in conjunction with views expressed by the current government have changed the debate surrounding the funding of higher education by implying that education funding is not an expectation of a government, which forces students to pay. Ironically, the politicians writing this review gained a free education.

The recommendation most likely to detriment all students, if followed, is the increase in student fees without any increases in base funding. Constantly, we hear authorities and reports finding that the higher education sector is chronically underfunded – which it is. However, the biggest point these reviews seem to miss is that Australia has one of the most underfunded higher education sectors in all OECD nations.

Politicians have already aspired to pushing students into increasing levels of debt by turning start-up scholarships into loans, which could leave individuals with up to $10,000 more debt by the end of their degree.

Further, the report recommended the introduction of a loan fee, which would see yet another increase in debt by up to $7,000. A loan fee would see students in government subsidised places lumped with even more debt – students not enrolled in undergraduate subsidised courses currently pay a 25% fee.

With students nearly facing a decade of debt, pushing student debt far above $50,000 will only leave negative impacts for wider society, by reinstating an inherent elitism to tertiary education. The HECS-HELP scheme should not disallow the debate around loading students with greater debt – this is one of the largest considerations when prospective students decide to study at University.

Kemp and Norton also recommended that private institutions be allowed to have government funded places, and for them to participate in a demand driven system. This fact, paired with the threat of greater deregulation and lower levels of funding threatens the future of public education. Not only would this dilute the overall amount of funding for public institutions, but significantly reduce the funding per student.

Monash University, and the Group of Eight universities have suggested that our only option is to deregulate fees for degrees that have higher demand, which essentially gets those students to subsidise the CSP students. This would especially disadvantage potential students from low SES backgrounds in both deciding to go to university and completing their degree due to worries about accumulating debt. That is it the Group of Eight saying this exclusive of other public universities promotes a system where students pay more for a supposedly “better” education.

In context with previous reviews, the Kemp and Norton is narrowly focussed and serves the government’s interests more than concerns surrounding the quality of higher education. The 2008 Bradley review which recommended higher targets for participation, upgrading university and TAFE infrastructure, support for regional tertiary education providers and providing resources that allowed all public australian universities to provide the highest quality education possible. However, both of these reviews were a reflection of the party in power and therefore serves their respective interests, one of which was, and always will be criticising actions of the other party while they were in power.

The Monash Student Association, and the National Union of Students are pleased to hear positive outcomes from the demand driven system. However, there will be severe ramifications if certain recommendations – discussed above – are followed. All facets of our education system need to promote a more education and equitable society – not one clouded by conservative ideology and constant policy regression.

Ben Knight is the President of the Monash Student Association and Mali Rea is a General Representative on Monash Student Council

Image via Fleshmanpix @ Flickr

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