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Unis share blame for profit motive funding model

  • 03 May 2017


The debate about education in Australia has always been a skewed one between the issue of operating costs and profits on the one hand, and that of noble accessibility on the other.

What tends to be relegated to minor argument is the notion that education is an unqualified good that should be founded by the tax payer, with minimal costs issuing to the student. The beneficial proof is always in the pudding of education.

For various reasons, then, the idea of a 'free' education in Australia has been qualified by the notion of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), which actually serves to wedge the liquid incentive of government and educational institutions on the one hand with the need for students to obtain affordable education on the other.

Even that balance is now under threat, with the pre-budget announcement by Education Minister Simon Birmingham suggesting cuts to university funding and increasing costs to student degrees are in the offing.

In the mania to attain budget surplus, the Turnbull government is effectively slashing its wrists by making education less appealing, let alone accessible. Student fees are projected to rise between $2000 and $3600 next year, to a total of 7.5 per cent by 2021. Repayment of HECS debts will commence at the lower threshold of $42,000 a year.

The Group of Eight (Go8) CEO, Vicki Thomson, was unimpressed, stating in a timely reminder that education remains trapped in a 'distorted' funding model, despite being Australia's third largest service sector export that provides revenue rather than 'budget cost'. So much, it seems, for a prime minister captivated to distraction by notions of research and innovation.

Universities, however, are far from blameless in this distorted funding model. Morrison, for instance, praises and exonerates universities for doing excessive 'budget "lifting"'. The enormous elephant in the room that also jeopardises the Australian education system lies in the squeeze inflicted by the management class, notably pro-consuls who have sprouted at the top of the university hierarchy.

Vice chancellors in Australia are paid well — too well. Much of this suggests the illusion that the VC is analogous to the position of an entrepreneur, which it is distinctly not. As ever, the academy has produced a monster of sorts, straddling the academic and administrative sector without the awareness or skill of private sector adventurism.


"The profit motive should be excised altogether, with education deemed an automatic social and economic good that ultimately rewards rather