The feds are not only tightening control over undergraduate places, they want to rationalise where and how sub-degree and coursework masters funding are allocated.
Understandably so, places are now handed out on the basis of local need, reasons that seemed good at the time and special pleading. The government set out some ideas on what it could do in November, including a 5 per cent cut on all effected places and now it is time for universities to respond, (CMM November 14).
The Innovative Research Universities lobby does just that in a considered policy paper which goes to the heart of the problem.
The IRU calls for demand driven funding for sub-degree places, which the feds probably will not like. DDF for some students and not others at universities would be hard to defence and if higher education can teach diplomas on-load surely VET institutions would claim the right.
The paper also addresses in detail how PG places should be allocated across universities and it nails the policy problem inherent in public funding.
“The growing array of specialisations within broad professional categories along with the trend for professional bodies to raise the requirements for practice means the array of courses leading to professional practice continues to develop.”
To contain qualification-creep the IRU suggests, “definition of the relevant qualifications should be at the broad professional level, and exclude qualifications required to practice in particular niche areas within the broad profession.
It would also mean approving all universities which offer a relevant qualification. Similarly, to address skills shortages all universities serving that relevant market should be approved for funded places in those fields.
This will mean that government will need to be willing to add places to the pool should the demand nationally over the coming decade exceed available allocations.”
While the IRU would never suggest such a thing; when it comes to regulating funded places, caps rarely fit.