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RiotACT Face Off: Should funded tertiary education be subject selective?

By Canfan - 20 October 2014 14

Intellectual-book-graduation-stock-191014

It’s time for another RiotACT Face Off. This week, we asked Kate Carnell and Steven Bailey to share their thoughts on government funding of tertiary education. Both were given the following question and their responses are below.

Should tertiary education directly align with the business needs of the nation in order to qualify for Government subsidy or loan?

Kate Carnell
kate-carnell-image

In Australia, university education, and increasingly vocational study, is funded by a combination of government subsidy and student fees which are usually paid through a purpose-built loan scheme enabling students to borrow money and pay it back when their income is sufficient to comfortably pay down debt. This contribution from taxpayer funds recognises the “public benefit” in students undertaking tertiary studies. The private benefit to the student comes in putting those skills to good use in a chosen occupation, usually with an above average salary attached. Without these skills, not only would business and the economy suffer, but taxpayers (including those who never attended higher education) would have limited choices for doctors, pharmacists, dentists, vets and lawyers to name but a few occupations that provide service to individuals and families. On the other hand, if a student chooses a course for personal interest and with no likelihood of using the education for employment, then it is harder to justify taxpayer subsidy.

If the student lacks information about the labour market, or does not have sufficient incentive to go looking, such as when things are free, students end up doing courses that don’t lead to good job outcomes. We saw this happen in Victoria a few years ago in the vocational training system where training providers encouraged students to undertake fully funded courses, but where an unacceptable number of the courses were of poor quality and did not lead to jobs.

One of the important elements of the current higher education reforms that has been given less attention than it deserves is the new Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching or QILT. This programme will make data available via the web to students in an easy to digest format on student satisfaction with university courses, together with salary and job outcomes. The website when launched will enable students to compare courses and universities.

With debate running hot on deregulation of university fees and concerns that this would lead to significant fee hikes, I would argue that it is the QILT website, alongside good careers advice, employment forecasting and industry information on where the jobs are likely to be, that will enable the market to operate effectively so that students have a wide range of course and fee options. Evidence is strong that it is not where you study, but what you study that will lead to higher salaries and better jobs. How do you know what to study? It is all about an informed market.

Steven Bailey
steven-bailey-faceoff-pic

Before I begin, I’d just like to take the opportunity to say it is an honour to debate someone for whom I have considerable respect.

Golly gosh! Has it really come to this? The premise of this question is indicative of the cold heart that continues to creep to the centre of Australia’s current political direction.
That a country as successful as ours would entertain the proposition that the full breadth of tertiary education should be limited to the wealth of one’s parents, or to the demands of Industry, should be seen as nothing less than an attack on the self-determination of its citizens.

Who would decide which degrees ‘directly align’ with the needs of business, and how would those needs be quantified?

Since the global financial crisis youth unemployment has emerged as an ever-increasing dilemma for Australia. According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, close to 200,000 people aged from 15 to 24 have completely disengaged from the workforce. The disengaged and disaffected are three times more likely to suffer from poor mental health and pose a myriad of economic and social challenges which, when we consider our aging population, endanger our standard of living.

As Australians, instead of blaming one another, we should help one another. Instead of locking young people out of certain streams of academic pursuit, we should incentivise and inspire our young citizenry to engage in whatever form of education they so choose.

To prescribe education that directly aligns with the needs of business is to misunderstand the very purpose of education, which is to nourish its citizenry.

Statistics recently published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development demonstrate that university graduates offer twice the rate of return to the Australian public than the rate of return to themselves. Australia is not wasting money by supporting university students; it is wasting money by not supporting university students.

There is an ethical side to this argument as well. Education should be considered a human right, not a prescription for business nor a privilege for the rich. Affording our young citizenry support in a university course of their choosing is a matter of justice; it costs us nothing to be just, but the cost of injustice is great and generational. Only lazy entities consumed with self-interest or the illiberal Liberal Party, in its current form, who are little more than a barmy army for the coal industry, would support such a retrograde and draconian disincentive as the one proposed by the question.

Instead of advocating a restriction on what people may study, Business and Industry can fund universities to facilitate new degrees and research, but substituting public research funding with private funding would stifle innovation and be a disaster for the productivity of the nation. Great publically funded research, such as Wi-Fi, creates the industries of the future.

Secondly, there is a demand for academic pursuit which does not directly ‘align’ with the needs of the business community. To refuse to offer these subjects, or offer them exclusively to people who can afford to pay for them upfront, is to refuse to supply what is clearly in demand.

Can one say that the desire NOT to offer these courses is plainly motivated by the principles of business? Clearly not. There is an ideology, or a system of values motivating these perspectives. Conservative ideologues tend to obfuscate and obscure these values. Humanities subjects, such as philosophy, English and history, seek to expose these values and analyse them, and in doing so nourish our nation.

In John Dewey’s book Democracy and Education he writes, ‘it is illiberal and immoral to train children to work not freely and intelligently but for the sake of the work earned’.
The needs of business belong to humanity; humanity does not belong to the needs of business, and knowledge is a right before it is a commodity.

What’s Your opinion?


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14 Responses to
RiotACT Face Off: Should funded tertiary education be subject selective?
HenryBG 9:40 pm 21 Oct 14

neanderthalsis said :

a. There isn’t a shortage of accountants, so no real loss to the economy there.
b. They’re full fee paying students, some paying as much as 100k to do their degree, so no tax payers money is wasted and they are effectively subsidising domestic students.
c. They get a job elsewhere, pay taxes, buy things and contribute to the economy.

Win, win, win. You could argue about the wasted effort in doing a degree and not using it or point out that “dey turk er jebs”, neither hold any water though.

Amusingly, I just remembered an incident a few years ago when an Indian-Australian colleague took me to task over complaining about my taxes being used to fund dole-bludgers and the do-nothing public servants whose work we were being contracted to complete.
“I have an advanced degree in accounting, and let me tell you….blah blah blah”
He used a whiteboard to draw up some kind of complicated economic theory which said that paying people the dole, or even better paying them to occupy pretend jobs in the public service, was a vital part of successful economic theory etc…etc… giving us the wonderful and successful society that we have. (He was clearly a convert).
He made it sound pretty convincing.

Needless to say, the work he was doing with me was entirely unrelated to his “advanced degree in Accounting”.

neanderthalsis 9:25 pm 21 Oct 14

urchin said :

HenryBG said :

theword said :

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

Not to mention the even lower-quality degrees in “Communications” and whatnot.

Is there a way for business to fund good degrees directly? Probably not. Who wants to pay a premium for a recent graduate when there are experienced workers available?

Better would be to look at how the immigration points system works: desirable skills are identified and listed. This list is updated over time as demand changes. Something similar could be done with University funding – every year, in-demand skills could be identified and that year’s HECS could be discounted by 50%, say.

i see a lot of international students studying accounting so that they can qualify for permanent residency. they have zero interest in it. they complete the degree, get a job, then as soon as they get their permanent residency go off and do something that truly interests them. the result? students get nothing out of it and the labour shortage is not addressed. not sure that this is a system you want to emulate. it is hardly a resounding success.

a. There isn’t a shortage of accountants, so no real loss to the economy there.
b. They’re full fee paying students, some paying as much as 100k to do their degree, so no tax payers money is wasted and they are effectively subsidising domestic students.
c. They get a job elsewhere, pay taxes, buy things and contribute to the economy.

Win, win, win. You could argue about the wasted effort in doing a degree and not using it or point out that “dey turk er jebs”, neither hold any water though.

But the points system for GSM pathways has been fairly successful in targeting high needs occupations, although I am not sure it would work in a highly subsidised market, HECS reductions were in place for some degrees in high demand areas, teaching and nursing, but the reduced debt opportunity didn’t increase commencements in those streams substantially. It might have a better chance under the higher ed reforms the government is trying to push through now though.

HenryBG 9:01 pm 21 Oct 14

urchin said :

HenryBG said :

theword said :

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

Not to mention the even lower-quality degrees in “Communications” and whatnot.

Is there a way for business to fund good degrees directly? Probably not. Who wants to pay a premium for a recent graduate when there are experienced workers available?

Better would be to look at how the immigration points system works: desirable skills are identified and listed. This list is updated over time as demand changes. Something similar could be done with University funding – every year, in-demand skills could be identified and that year’s HECS could be discounted by 50%, say.

i see a lot of international students studying accounting so that they can qualify for permanent residency. they have zero interest in it. they complete the degree, get a job, then as soon as they get their permanent residency go off and do something that truly interests them. the result? students get nothing out of it and the labour shortage is not addressed. not sure that this is a system you want to emulate. it is hardly a resounding success.

Sounds perfectly good to me – some wannabe Australians become Australians through application and the aid of the education system.
The skills they learn extend way beyond the subject matter of the course they studied, and if they choose to be employed at the end of it, who are we to care *waht* it is they choose to be employed as?

There is no excuse for being unemployed.

urchin 7:28 pm 21 Oct 14

HenryBG said :

theword said :

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

Not to mention the even lower-quality degrees in “Communications” and whatnot.

Is there a way for business to fund good degrees directly? Probably not. Who wants to pay a premium for a recent graduate when there are experienced workers available?

Better would be to look at how the immigration points system works: desirable skills are identified and listed. This list is updated over time as demand changes. Something similar could be done with University funding – every year, in-demand skills could be identified and that year’s HECS could be discounted by 50%, say.

i see a lot of international students studying accounting so that they can qualify for permanent residency. they have zero interest in it. they complete the degree, get a job, then as soon as they get their permanent residency go off and do something that truly interests them. the result? students get nothing out of it and the labour shortage is not addressed. not sure that this is a system you want to emulate. it is hardly a resounding success.

urchin 7:25 pm 21 Oct 14

“if the student lacks the necessary information about the labor market…” we should CERTAINLY not educate said student, we should instead let politicians decide for him or her what career path(s) s/he ought to pursue and penalise him/her for making a different decision? sounds reasonable…

university is a time where you *figure out* what it is you want to do by interacting with and experiencing a wide range of fields, by being given the freedom to explore. it is certainly considered to be, by some, a “vocational” school but those who do hold this view clearly have no notion of what a vocational school is. universities do not teach you to build a cabinet, to fix a car, or to wire a house. universities teach you to think critically, to engage with new ideas, and introduce you to new ways of looking at the world. if they are not doing this, then they are doing it wrong and the emphasis should be on fixing the “vocationalising” trend, not embracing it.

what would happen under this plan, were anyone foolish enough to try to embrace it? all the humanities, everything that doesn’t match the ideological stance of the government du jour, would be priced out of reach of less affluent students and collapse. history, literature, music, art, languages, anthropology, archaeology, etc., etc.. all gone. gender studies? yeah, that’s last about 12 seconds under tony’s regime.

where does this notion that everything we do must be aligned with the needs of big businesses and corporations come from? is it really necessary that we enslave ourselves so? what is the point of becoming wealthier still if we do so at the expense of becoming an increasingly uncultured, ignorant and superficial people? is becoming a “nation of shopkeepers” really what australia is about?

how, exactly, would this result in more innovation, more creativity and more adaptability in the workforce? it would certainly innovate the best teachers and researchers out of our institutions. it would innovate the best young minds who are not interested in accounting or veterinary sciences out of the country.

this has to be the dumbest thing i’ve ever read on riotact. and there’s been a LOT of dumb stuff on riotact…

neanderthalsis 6:19 pm 21 Oct 14

Steven Bailey said :

theword said :

Steven Bailey said :

We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie.

Hi Steven – my perception is there are a lot of graduates sitting around who can’t get a job that aligns with the degree that have done. I personally know 3 people in this situation – and they all have art degrees. I do acknowledge that my perception and experience may not reflect how things actually are. I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show unemployment levels for degree qualified people?

Yeah cheers mate. I know far more people with arts degrees who have good careers than people who don’t. Though I do agree with you that it can be a problem. This still is not a reason to withdraw support for university courses. I’ll try and find some stats for us to have a look at.

Here are the relevant stats on graduate employment outcomes and earnings.

Humanities graduates are really no more worse off employment wise than most other fields of study, same with graduate earnings. Visual Arts outcomes are pretty much as expected though. Surprisingly, those who study in the realm of biology seem to doing it tough.

HenryBG 4:04 pm 21 Oct 14

theword said :

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

Not to mention the even lower-quality degrees in “Communications” and whatnot.

Is there a way for business to fund good degrees directly? Probably not. Who wants to pay a premium for a recent graduate when there are experienced workers available?

Better would be to look at how the immigration points system works: desirable skills are identified and listed. This list is updated over time as demand changes. Something similar could be done with University funding – every year, in-demand skills could be identified and that year’s HECS could be discounted by 50%, say.

Steven Bailey 3:48 pm 21 Oct 14

theword said :

Steven Bailey said :

We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie.

Hi Steven – my perception is there are a lot of graduates sitting around who can’t get a job that aligns with the degree that have done. I personally know 3 people in this situation – and they all have art degrees. I do acknowledge that my perception and experience may not reflect how things actually are. I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show unemployment levels for degree qualified people?

Yeah cheers mate. I know far more people with arts degrees who have good careers than people who don’t. Though I do agree with you that it can be a problem. This still is not a reason to withdraw support for university courses. I’ll try and find some stats for us to have a look at.

astrojax 1:42 pm 21 Oct 14

pink little birdie said :

theword said :

Steven Bailey said :

We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie.

Hi Steven – my perception is there are a lot of graduates sitting around who can’t get a job that aligns with the degree that have done. I personally know 3 people in this situation – and they all have art degrees. I do acknowledge that my perception and experience may not reflect how things actually are. I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show unemployment levels for degree qualified people?

I know people who can’t get jobs that align with their degrees and they are engineering, IT, science, computer science, physics. teachers, lawyers
I heard a rumour a couple of weeks ago the ANU engineering has a 30% unemployment rate for grads.

A lot of the issue is people aren’t willing to give grads the oppotunity and entry level work requires 1-2 years of experience which grads don’t have.

maybe, too, we shouldn’t be so keen to look at the employment or otherwise of grads in the first year or three immediately post-graduation; the economic state of play at that time is well beyond their doing.

careers take a life time and education should be equipping us for life, not a first job…

pink little birdie 1:25 pm 21 Oct 14

theword said :

Steven Bailey said :

We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie.

Hi Steven – my perception is there are a lot of graduates sitting around who can’t get a job that aligns with the degree that have done. I personally know 3 people in this situation – and they all have art degrees. I do acknowledge that my perception and experience may not reflect how things actually are. I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show unemployment levels for degree qualified people?

I know people who can’t get jobs that align with their degrees and they are engineering, IT, science, computer science, physics. teachers, lawyers
I heard a rumour a couple of weeks ago the ANU engineering has a 30% unemployment rate for grads.

A lot of the issue is people aren’t willing to give grads the oppotunity and entry level work requires 1-2 years of experience which grads don’t have.

theword 12:16 pm 21 Oct 14

Steven Bailey said :

We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie.

Hi Steven – my perception is there are a lot of graduates sitting around who can’t get a job that aligns with the degree that have done. I personally know 3 people in this situation – and they all have art degrees. I do acknowledge that my perception and experience may not reflect how things actually are. I’d be interested to know if there are any studies that show unemployment levels for degree qualified people?

Steven Bailey 12:03 pm 21 Oct 14

theword said :

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

The argument isn’t about whether people should be informed or not. The argument is about whether people should have access to certain degrees. We don’t have a problem with graduates sitting around and doing nothing – it’s just a lie. We have a problem with people not educating themselves enough in a changing economy. I’ve found that whenever people want to take away your choice, they’ll invariably tell you that it’s about giving you more choice.

astrojax 7:36 am 21 Oct 14

the trouble with this question is that it presupposes there exists some specific tertiary qualification that only through its acquisition can one excel in a career that will enable economic growth for the nation; and the inverse being that not undertaking such a course is burdensome to economic growth.

tell that to richard branson, bill gates, etc…

sure, we need qualified doctors, lawyers, etc. but we also need freedom and we, as a community, need to recognise that we all need to pay for this freedom.

theword 4:59 pm 20 Oct 14

Got to say I agree with Kate on this one. An ‘informed market’ will mean less people sitting around with irrelevant art degrees who can’t get a job.

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