Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are Australia's universities tied in Government knots?

Last month in Education Targets and Australia's Universities - delivery problems for the Rudd Government I suggested that one of the Rudd Government's educations targets, increasing the number of 25 to 34 year olds with university degrees from today's 32 per cent to 40 per cent by 2025, could not be delivered.

There was nothing magical about the post, it was simply a rough test on the numbers.

Today's Australian Financial Review carried a story with the headline Tied in knots by strings attached to finance. I cannot give you the link. It is behind the paper's pay fire wall. The essence of the story was that Australia's universities were caught individually in complex negotiations with the Government on funding.

I really struggled with this story. The main theme was the way in which performance agreements created conflict between objectives, between competition and the co-operation required to achieve better access for disadvantaged students. A secondary theme was the sheer complexity involved in mass negotiation of agreements in short time horizons.

While I found the story intuitively plausible, my core problem lay in the fact that I could not do a proper analysis without knowing the detail of the performance requirements. Otherwise, anything I might write would be simply sound and fury.

It must be clear that I simply do not believe that the Rudd Government's "Education Revolution" will deliver better higher education. Note I say education, not education outcomes. I am deeply suspicious, and that suspicion is not aided by the complexity and lack of transparency in the process.

I would love to be corrected. Perhaps a reader might explain to me the advantages in the present approach.


Rummuser said...

Jim, this is not a dilemma for Australia alone. From what I gather, throughout the world, except for a few notable exceptions, the idea is not education but enabling the acquiring of qualifications. I was taught that education was learning to learn. I would dearly love to be proved wrong but, this does not work anymore. The old liberal arts type of education, or the specialties where emphasis was on research and individual effort with guidance has all but vanished. So, what difference does it make any way?

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that it come back in part to the difference between education and training, between learning to think and learning to do. But it also relates to both the cost of and flexibility within the system.