While lobbies focus on maximising their share of a reduced quantum of cash, subtle strategists are using the new circumstances to talk about options for a new sort of universities.
In a wide-ranging essay for the Group of Eight newsletter on what quality means for staff and students University of Adelaide DVC Pascale Quester suggests that the research-intensive model suits the former but not all of the latter. And yet all universities aspire to being research–driven, despite the costs.
“Is there really no room,” she asks,” for institutions that may succeed without the fees of international students simply because they can deliver great value to a substantial proportion of the domestic student population, without incurring the exponentially higher costs of undertaking research?”
Professor Quester warns that a focus on research rather than students by “many excellent universities” is “a grave collective risk.”
“They leave the field wide-open for private providers who will fill the gap and generate healthy surpluses by delivering the sort of vocationally orientated education that some tertiary education institutions used to deliver so well but are now prepared to neglect in pursuit of research intensity.”
She adds that while institutions focused on graduate completion and employment outcomes may not meet academic ideas of quality they are what the present government wants, and are “far closer to what I would expect a majority of students (and their parents) to hold true.”
We have been here before. Friends of the research-intensive universities used to suggest they would make best use of all federal funding for it. Warren Bebbington, Professor Quester’s old boss at UniAdelaide, made a strong case for adopting the US model of elite teaching-only colleges. Past times were never quite right for such arguments. But with the government suggesting future base funding growth will be tied to undergraduate outcomes present times are.