Planned outage this Sunday

Hello all, your friendly Ozblogistan tyrant here.

To perform some important maintenance on the site, it will be necessary to deactivate all Ozblogistan blogs temporarily on Sunday afternoon. I am expecting to take the site down around 2pm, central standard time, for up to two hours.

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 3

Of all the dubious ideas likely to be submitted to the higher education funding review, the most dangerous because most likely to be accepted is that deregulated supply – from next year, the Commonwealth is scheduled to abolish the controls that currently tell unis how many students to take and broadly what disciplines they will be in – should be combined with capped prices.

That however is the message of the higher funding review submission of the Innovative Research Universities lobby group.

For them the price per discpline would be simplified version of the current ‘cluster’ funding model, with many disciplines given the same funding rate, and a flat maximum student price.

It would be a blunter price mechanism than now when we need a sharper one. Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 3”

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 2

It is quite plausible that there are public benefits from higher education on top of the private benefits accruing to graduates themselves. And there is an at least theoretically plausible argument that, in some cases, these public (and private) benefits may be under-produced if higher education was simply left to the market. This is a conventional market failure argument used to justify public subsidy of higher education.

But is it the case that taxpayers should fund public benefits even if there is no market failure? That seems to be the claim made in the Universities Australia submission to the higher education funding review. They tell us that:

McMahon [an American academic] concludes that the value of external benefits (excluding equity funding which is separate) to wider society beyond those appropriated privately through education by the former students themselves ranges from a lower bound estimate of public benefit of 37% to an upper bound estimate of 61% as a share of the total returns to education. Fifty per cent is close to the midpoint estimate. Universities Australia believes this can serve as a reasonable benchmark for discussion of the public: private benefit shares of higher education.

Later in the submission they call for this to be the basis for public funding: Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 2”

The start of a tax and spend turnaround?

The 2010 Australian Election Study is now available at the Australian Social Science Data Archive, so we can see the latest results in a long series of similarly-worded questions on tax and spend.


Question: If the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, which do you think it should do?

For the first time since 2001, more people say they want reduced taxes than more spending on social services. However the proportion of respondents wanting less tax is up only 3 percentage points. The main thing that has happened is a move from clear support for more spending on social services to a ‘depends’ option.

There are problems with this question. It omits the status quo, which is always popular if presented. It doesn’t make completely clear the options it is presenting, reducing taxes AND reducing social services (at least compared to what they might otherwise be) or spending more on social services AND paying higher taxes (at least compared to what they might otherwise be). But I think the consistent question lets us track broad sentiment over time. Maybe here there are some small signs of some changing views on this issue.

False tax and spend choices

Essential Research today kicked off the annual round of pre-budget tax and spend polls, but with some pretty bad questions. Take the question below on the goal of returning to surplus by 2012-13, which according to this poll most people think should be abandoned:

But how about if the question had been phrased:

Q. Do you think it is more important for the Government to return the budget to surplus by 2012/13 as planned – which may mean cutting services and raising taxes – OR should they delay the return to surplus and go deeper and deeper into debt, with more government spending each year diverted to paying interest?

Tax and spend questions need to spell out the full implications of choices for the results to be meaningful. The failure to explain the real alternatives also renders pointless a question on increased spending.

Labor machine man puts family first

The moment on Insiders this morning when new NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson is torn between the Labor line on gay marriage and the life chances of his gay son. He says the right thing in the end, but his initial equivocation was painful to watch:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Just a couple of quick questions and quick answers. You’ve dealt with marijuana and a little more directly than Bill Clinton.

Gay marriages?

JOHN ROBERTSON: Look it’s a federal issue.

And I have a son who’s openly gay. Obviously I think he is a wonderful person.

But it’s a matter for the Commonwealth.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Do you support his right to marry?

JOHN ROBERTSON: Well I see him as a person who is a genuine person who can make a contribution to our society. He’s bright, he’s intelligent.

And to be blunt I think people should have the same rights.

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1

With submissions to the higher education base funding review due on Thursday, some organisations are starting to put their ideas out into the media. I thought I would start an occasional series on dubious proposals made to the review (though I suppose this is just a more specific version of what this blog has been about since it started).

Behind the AFR‘s paywall is a story about the Australian Technology Network’s submission. They are suggesting that graduates who work in areas of skills shortage get a discount on their HELP debt repayments.

But generally where there are skills shortages the market deals with financial incentives: the pay goes up. And why should taxpayers rather than employers fork out when staff get more expensive?

The only example given is a rather sexist one, that female engineers should be given an added incentive to stay in the profession. The Beyond Graduation survey, of graduates three years out, found that engineering graduates were already earning good money (median salary $75,000) and had the second highest rate of income growth since their first job (63%). If there is a problem with women in engineering, I doubt it is money. A female engineering graduate isn’t likely to earn more doing something else. Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1”

Another OECD factoid

Regular readers will know that I am no fan of the OECD cringe, the belief that OECD averages set a standard that Australia should follow.

But uncritical use of OECD statistics is made even worse by misleading use of OECD statistics. That’s what ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young – normally one of the better VCs in his public statements – does in this opinion piece in today’s Age.

Young says:

OECD figures show that public spending on tertiary education in Australia is about 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product. Clearly, this will rise as the system is expanded in coming years. However, the spending compares poorly with Denmark at 1.6 per cent, Sweden at 1.4 per cent, Norway at 1.2 per cent and the Netherlands at 1.1 per cent.

On average, public investment in tertiary education in these countries is twice that of Australia.

It is no surprise that these countries have been able to develop high value-added export industries, despite high production costs and high exchange rates. These countries also have high social cohesion.

But Professor Young doesn’t explain why public funding of higher education leads to positive results that private funding does not. So we should look at private spending as well.

And if we average the total tertiary education spending as a proportion of GDP in the OECD’s figures in these countries what number do we get? An average of 1.5%, exactly the same as Australia’s total.

As a proportion of GDP the Nordic countries do have more public spending on higher education than Australia. But this is a factoid devoid of policy significance.

Free speech and hate speech

Katharine Gelber’s new book Speech Matters: Getting Free Speech Right is for the most part a useful summary of speech laws in Australia, and the issues surrounding them. The key chapters are on using or destroying the flag to make political statements, the speech aspects of anti-terrorist laws, hate speech, demonstrations, political art, and corporate use of litigation against critics.

The few policy disagreements I have with Gelber come I think from our different underlying philosophical positions. Her commitment to free speech is more qualified than mine by social democratic ideas. For example, she supports laws against ‘hate speech’, which I oppose. Her position on this comes from her ideas about an ‘inclusive speech culture’:

[hate speech]’s very purpose is to exclude its targets from participating in the broader deliberative processes required for democracy to happen by rendering them unworthy of participation and limiting the likelihood of others recognising them as legitimate participants in speech.

But Gelber doesn’t show that this is the effect of ‘hate speech’. Hateful comments might intimidate, but they are also spurs to action – most of the ‘victim’ groups in Australian society are vocal in their own defence, and have plenty of other defenders. And as she acknowledges in her book, anti-vilification laws have the effect of giving cranks publicity. Continue reading “Free speech and hate speech”