Claire Field on, “the most significant reforms since Dawkins’

“And all without the government spending a single extra cent” 



Public debate on the government’s university funding reforms has focussed mostly on the humanities and the aim of improving students’ job prospects.

Hence the minister’s advice to “add a language” or IT subjects to lessen the humanities’ fee increase and improve employment outcomes. This will sound sensible to many and deflects attention from the fact the reforms are less about graduate outcomes than they purport to be. After all, “more students doing STEM” is another stated reform aspiration yet science graduates have worse employment outcomes than humanities, business or law graduates (all facing higher fees), and science funding drops $5,000 per student in the new model.

The rural funding initiatives and lower student fees for other degrees will be well received.

And so, while debate focuses on the humanities vs STEM – we miss the bigger picture. If enacted, these reforms will be the most significant since Dawkins.

39,000 extra places will be funded through a CPI increase. That means students take on more debt and/or universities get more efficient.

The removal of restrictions on how funding is used across sub-Bachelor, undergraduate and postgraduate courses will see the Group of Eight enrol more postgraduates, while other universities will welcome more sub-Bachelor students.

Funding flexibility, the rapid uptake of micro-credentials, the ability to trade student places, and the introduction of new university colleges which the minister explicitly describes as teaching-only institutions (and which I therefore anticipate will in time receive government funding) will transform the sector. And all without the government spending a single extra cent.

On top of that, universities have already agreed to a suite of performance measures. Now they are likely to agree to more – this time focussed on their engagement with business. Collectively these KPIs will result in a brand new university ranking system focussed on domestic students.

Claire is a consultant to the sector and her first degree was a Bachelor of Arts