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Bradley Review: some comments « Previous | |Next »
December 17, 2008

The Bradley Review Report is still not online. The Departments website has nothing on the Review. It is a blank text. So I have to rely on commentary by others who have access to the report.

From what I can gather it argues that the financial situation faced by universities has been worsening; it also confirms that Australia is losing its earlier competitive edge - "Australia is losing ground against a number of its competitor countries on a range of indicators… In 2020 Australia will not be where we aspire to be – in the top group of OECD countries in terms of participation and performance – unless we act, and act now.”
Steven Schwartz says that the review does contain two very big ideas - Australia needs more university graduates and university funding should be “driven by student demand”. On the first point Schwartz says that the reports states:

Australia’s standard of living.....depends on our winning an international educational competition for the most skilled workforce. Put simply, we need more graduates in order to ensure our national prosperity. .....Given that school leavers from middle class and professional backgrounds already attend university in large numbers, increasing the number of Australian graduates requires that capable students from currently under-represented backgrounds (low-income, rural, indigenous) enter higher education and successfully complete their degrees.

Many of the review’s recommendations proceed logically from this premise. If we want to attract more students from under-represented backgrounds, then we need outreach programs designed to raise aspirations and student support funds to help low-income students while studying. We need to concentrate on outcomes rather than inputs and we should have agreed targets by which to measure progress.

Schwartz says that:

The review’s other big idea - student-driven funding - will ensure a Commonwealth subsidised place to every student accepted by an approved higher education institution. Universities would be free to determine how many students they wish to enrol in various subjects and a new place would be created more-or-less automatically.This reform has the potential to provide students with greater choice than they have now; it would also make it possible for universities to respond to student demand.

However, universities be forbidden from raising the level of private contribution that students make toward their education (that is, tuition fees would be capped at current levels).The review recognises that price competition is a major mechanism for delivering efficiency, but claims that it is necessary to cap fees in order to keep “established” institutions from sharply raising prices.

The Report has finally been released to the general public and concerned citizens. The academic and think tank commentators had their copies much earlier. It says that the reiew

was established to address the question of whether this critical sector of education is structured, organised and financed to position Australia to compete effectively in the new globalised economy. The panel has concluded that, while the system has great strengths, it faces significant, emerging threats which require decisive action. To address these, major reforms are recommended to the financing and regulatory frameworks for higher education.

It argues that the nation will need more well-qualified people if it is to anticipate and meet the demands of a rapidly moving global economy. but that from 2010 the supply of people with undergraduate qualifications will not keep up with demand. It goes on to say that:
The measures supported in this report are designed to reshape the higher education system to assist Australia to adapt to the challenges that it will inevitably face in the future. However, because the world is in a period of rapid and unpredictable change, it is not clear if they will be sufficient to enable the higher education system to meet these challenges adequately. Because other countries have already moved to address participation and investment in tertiary education, as a means of assisting them to remain internationally competitive, the recommendations in this report, if fully implemented, are likely to do no more than maintain the relative international performance and position of the Australian higher education sector.

The policy language is all about Australia's competitive position in the global economy, improving its relative performance against other nations and education as an export industry that underpins the earnings of the higher education sector. In a globalised world, higher education and skills development are central to national
productivity growth, which is the key to our economic future.

That's the ALP's growth strategy. Will Rudd and Gillard deliver on that?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:37 AM | | Comments (17)


Retaining students in education does more for reducing unemployment rates than anything else. You have to wonder what sort of jobs our graduates get when they finish with all of the IT jobs being off-shored to India, the finance sector is pretty keen on off-shoring jobs also and pathology labs ditto.
The type of skilled workforce mining companies require involves on the job training and so when miners slash jobs you can predict they will need skilled migration to ramp up their workforce in the next mining boom.
Will the global financial crisis reduce the numbers of overseas students wanting to study in Australia? I predict lower demand for university places in 2009 & 2010.

Billie's comment seems logical enough, but it won't work that way. In a tight job market student numbers will rise. Our dollar will encourage O/s students.

A few points I've picked up reading about this.

25% of working population with a degree should be 40% by 2020. That would have political appeal.

There are no corporate speak mission statement recommendations. Whew.

On the whole, the review favours the top 25 and smaller, rural and regional unis should be left to fall over in favour of one big regional one. (won't happen - electoral death).

Student/teacher ratios are too high, which is related to low numbers of postgrads. I can't see a sudden boost in postgrad numbers. Credentialism in the system makes postgrad seem an impossible ask, three years is even more intimidating. You could go some way to fixing teacher shortages by restructuring postgrad frameworks. Haven't seen that mentioned.

Research output needs to be increased and should be properly funded. That would go some way to increasing teacher numbers, if people don't have to spend all their time seeking funding.

Fed govt to take over VET, which should be linked with unis, but kept distinct. Dawkins model to go. That has a lot of appeal. It's a mess at the moment and nobody knows where they stand or what they're supposed to be.

A voucher system is being seen as favouring the top unis, but that's not necessarily so. Students are tending to live at home and go to the nearest uni because of the cost of living, although that's not always the case.

Given what this government has done with other reviews, picking stuff it wants and rejecting coherent planning, I wouldn't expect higher ed to be any different.

Just read another article saying the report talks about more integration of VET and universities, not less.

the report says re higher education in regional Australia that:

We also face difficulties with provision of higher education in regional areas where there are thin markets which will not sustain a viable higher education presence. These problems will be exacerbated by projections of further decreases in the 15- to 24-year age group in many regional areas. Current arrangements provide no clear incentives to set up education programs in areas of need nor to work collaboratively with other providers to address problems of provision, and they mask signals that provision in some areas may need review. It is in regional areas that some of the difficulties, blockages and inefficiencies which derive from the structures of tertiary provision in our federal system are most evident.

I'm not sure how it proposes to address this. All I could find in the executive summary was this bland paragraph:
Provision of higher education in regional areas needs serious attention to increase participation. After a process of review of current patterns of provision, an additional allocation of $80 million per year to develop innovative, collaborative, local solutions to provision of higher education in regional and remote areas is recommended. As well, serious consideration should be given to the development of a university with special expertise inprovision of higher education across regional and remote Australia.

That is not much--$80 million extra plus a special university? What happens to all the other regional universities?

the report says that one of its terms of reference was to establish the place of higher education in the broader tertiary education system, especially in building an integrated relationship with vocational education and training (VET). The intention of the recommendations it makes is to create a more flexible and responsive tertiary education and training system:

The panel has concluded that although distinct sectors are important, it is also vital that that there should be better connections across tertiary education and training to meet economic and social needs which are dynamic and not readily defined by sectoral boundaries. Apart from some professional, associate professional and trade jobs, there is no neat relationship between the level or field of qualifications obtained by students and subsequent occupations. Most firms demand a mixture of workforce skills acquired from either or both sectors and skills acquired on the job become more important the longer someone has been in the labour force.

It recognizes the growing demand for higher level skills that is driven by the expansion of the public and private service industries and ‘skill deepening’, or the demand of employers over time for a wider range of skills from their adds that:
Experience of the last downturn in the 1990s points to the need for considerable retraining as part of economic recovery because continuing change in the labour market increases the premium on higher qualifications and skills and disadvantages those without them.

However, the review does not see VET as primarily a feeder for higher education. The VET system meets urgent and vital national needs for particular vocational skills and its primary purposes must not be unreasonably distorted by any need to increase higher education participation.

It says that what needs to happen is the removal of rigidities, inflexibilities and obstacles to responsiveness so that Australia has a flexible tertiary education and training system able to move more rapidly to meet needs for high-level skills, and more responsive to the needs of students and accommodate providers operating across state or sectoral boundaries.

If we had a decent national broadband network and Australian universities were more willing to make use of the internet, the regional and remote area problems wouldn't be so drastic. The problems would be limited to hands on areas like sciences needing lab experience.

The bits I've seen on where VET fits in don't really clear anything up on who does what.

There are recommendations that postgrad should be 4 instead of 3 years and scholarships up from $20 to $25,000 a year, and more of them. That should help with understaffing.

Also means tested, increased Centrelink payments for students with a realistic living away from home allowance. That's essential if you want the voucher system to work properly.

It was good to see the erosion of the past acknowledged, and the international context even if it was focused on competitive markets.

Still, as Gary says, will Rudd and Gillard deliver or will the whole thing get the 5% treatment? We'll find out next year.

Greg Craven has an interesting op-ed in The Age on the voucher system in which every student qualified for university entry would bring to the institution of his or her choice Commonwealth funding to pay their way. He says:

The effect would be a unified system of higher education where student demand largely determined educational provision and institutional operation. Critically, such a system would deregulate the provision of university places..

The starting point in critiquing the voucher proposal must be that there is something highly attractive about the notion of a student learning entitlement. Why shouldn't qualified students go to the institution they desire, rather than to one that happens to have vacant, centrally allocated spaces? The problem?
Who would be the winners and losers in such a process? Again, it is hard to say. Certainly, regional universities and lower-prestige, outer-metropolitan universities could be vulnerable, particularly to high second-tier institutions with the capacity to attract students but without the desire of more elite universities to remain "exclusive".Inevitably, this would create significant problems for the Rudd Government. Particularly in the case of the regionals, dead or dying universities are not a natural conduit to electoral success.

In many cases around the country, the innovative, industry-engaged, imaginatively taught courses are to be found in "second-tier" institutions. Yet despite their quality, their viability is assured only by the limited number of places in the corresponding sandstone. Create a free market in places, and these courses will be critically exposed.

There's been a lot of focus on this 'voucher' thing, which is fair enough since that's probably the one suggestion they will take up. But if you pair that with the uneven need for support between disciplines it starts looking better for more than just the top tier unis.

Some disciplines did worse than others during the Howard years and the report argues that needs to be rectified.

If you're going to deregulate with a voucher system then you can't logically argue for govt engineering disciplines and favouring particular institutions.

Then again, the decisions will be made by a car and coal industries supporting prime minister.

Given some of you teach at universities, aren't you alarmed at the thinking that forty or so percent of twenty years could attend university? Once you start digging below about UAI of 90, the kids simply are not university material, until you REALLY dumb-down out of all recognition what a university does.

Given some of you teach at universities, what must a paper from your average UAI

There are a million better ways to keep these kids from inflating the Newstart numbers.

the market provides choice. The money is put in the hands of consumers. They decide. Not the state. The consumer decides to go to uni or to TAFE. Isn't that one strand of the Bradley review?

Your position is that uni's are only for a select few.

While full time TAFE teachers continue to earn 2/3 of a high school teachers wage skilled tradesmen and practitioners simply will not be able to afford to switch from industry to TAFE. Most practitioners earn more than teachers upto $120,000(chippie) as opposed to $75,000(school) or $50,000 (TAFE). Unfortunately most TAFE subjects are taught by part timers, invariably teachers who don't want or can't get a full time job.

Teachers with no time in industry really can't teach programming, bricklaying, etc that well as they really have no idea of the work. A carefully crafted case study or assignment is but a sheltered workshop that concentrates on a few key techniques.


But the market is not operating in the higher ed system. And that just avoids my curiosity about the sub 90 AUI types.

It's a fair point John. You can't on one hand say that school level education is an ineffective mess, then realistically expect that 40% of that population is ready for uni.

I don't think they're talking about that 40% being university educated though. I said "25% of working population with a degree should be 40% by 2020", but I think the report is actually talking about 40% with further education of any post-school kind.

No more than about ten percent should aim for university. The rest simply do not have the academic skills/motivation to get into it. There are plenty of other fantastic training opportunities for those not born for high powered brain work

high powered brain work? Many courses in the current higher education system are vocational ones for the professions.

TAFE should be more than teaching a few trade skills. It ought to be about learning to critically think about the job----eg; how do we make building more energy efficient. They need not go full time to learn how to build smartly as it should be connected to the job.