at best complex and at worst anomalous, inconsistent and irrational.
This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog.
There are a few instances of this kind of frank analysis. The discussion paper summarises the research on what effects increases in student charges have had on low SES groups or particular disciplines (ie, none), so we now have a government document that effectively admits that the hundreds of millions of dollars the government is spending reducing charges for maths and science students is money wasted.
The government’s rhetoric about cuts to per student expenditure is also put into context. Labor has preferred out-of-date OECD data which ends in 2004, conveniently missing the surge in spending per student since then. Here is the key sentence (p.15):
From 2005, income per place has increased and in 2006 was $15,090, or 7.2% above the 1989 level (in real terms).
Despite these useful admissions, and helpful summaries of some issues, some matters were so hidden by bureaucratic euphemism and vagueness that only people already familiar with higher ed policy would understand what was being said.
For example, the sentence ‘some commentators have noted that there are constraints on the flexibility and responsiveness of universities’ does not reveal to readers that in some cases universities are told how many places they will offer down to details of course and campus. The current system of distributing university places is not explained, though about 40 pages later there is a paragraph on ‘student-centred’ funding, which by implication reveals that the current system is not student-centred.
And for all the debunking of myths about the adverse effects of past fee increases, the critical issue of future fee deregulation remains almost unspeakable. Given the unreliability of governments as funding sources even if this was a good idea in principle, any review which omits to recommend at least partial deregulation must be considered a failure.
That the discussion paper does not deal with this issue directly and in detail makes it, despite some strengths, a disappointing document.