“Capping student numbers is a short-term measure not a long term solution, Innovative Research Universities head and Flinders U VC Colin Stirling warns. It is also unfair, denying “access to life changing opportunities,” as well as being out of touch with the times. While the DDS grew Australian universities enrolments by 200 000, to one million in the same period China increased its university student population by five million. “We can’t afford an under-educated workforce compared to Asian powerhouses,” he says.
And he warns that the funding freeze will put “downward pressure” on high-cost programmes on “disciplines in need,” in science, engineering and health.
Nor is Professor Stirling impressed with the government’s ideas for objectives universities will have to meet to secure growth places when the two-year freeze ends. “The metrics floated so far, graduation rates, attrition, time to complete, are goals from the ‘80s. Students now have much more complicated lives, they juggle work and study, attrition is very often independent of university. Even the idea of employability – if Flinders graduates a self-employed entrepreneur with a part-time job the government would view this as a failure because they are not employed full-time.”
Nor has the demand driven system failed on these sorts of measures, with graduate employment and student satisfaction both in the 80s. “Over the life of the demand driven system the attrition needed barely moved, Professor Stirling says.
“We are seeing people deriding the sector and its performance by anecdote, but the plural of anecdote is not data,” he adds.
Professor Stirling says the IRU would welcome “ a review of the entire post school education system, to meet the needs of the economy and young Australians.”