Working Papers

Partisan Grading

Republican academics are associated with less egalitarian grading outcomes.

posted on 11 January 2012 by skirchner in Higher Education

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Become the Boss of Me

The Business School at the University of Technology Sydney is looking to recruit a Head of the new Economics Group.

posted on 03 November 2010 by skirchner in Economics, Higher Education

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posted on 01 February 2008 by skirchner in Culture & Society, Economics, Financial Markets, Foreign Affairs & Defence, Higher Education, Misc, Politics

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Students to fund research

Australian higher education policy insists that all universities do research and that university education be as cheap as possible for students. Obviously, these two goals are in tension, with many costly aspects of the higher education system - such as teaching for less than half the year or libraries full of books of little use to undergraduates - designed entirely with research in mind. The policy structure has exacerbated this further by favouring research rather than student interests. For example, Commonwealth-supported student places are allocated to universities by a rigid quota system, with universities penalised for taking too many or too few students. This solves the bums on seats problem for most universities without them having to try very hard to do well by their students, since prospective students have few alternatives outside the state-sponsored system. By contrast, various incentive schemes encourage universities to increase the quantity and quality of their research output.

What this means in practice can be seen in amazingly frank comments from new Macquarie University Vice-Chancellor Steven Schwartz about what his university will do with the 25% increase in student charges that they intend to impose:

Macquarie vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz said about 20 per cent of the extra money would fund $1 million to $2million in new scholarships for needy students, especially those keen on science, maths or technology. ...

More fee income also would help Macquarie fund 40 new research positions advertised as part of a campaign to make the university more research intensive.

So it seems that the vast majority of Macquarie students will get exactly nothing in return for a major price hike. Since all Macquarie’s competitors have already done exactly the same thing and they are all protected by quotas Schwartz doesn’t even need to pretend that students could benefit from increasing their investment in higher education. Schwartz is actually one of the more pro-market VCs, and his own actions and comments show yet again why we need stronger market mechanisms in the higher education sector.

posted on 06 September 2006 by Andrew Norton in Higher Education

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Will Universities Australia be more effective than the AVCC?

At a meeting yesterday, the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee agreed to change their structure and rebrand themselves as ‘Universities Australia’. This followed a highly critical review released last month.

From a public choice perspective, higher education interest groups have always been rather unusual. As I argued some years ago, they are among very few interest groups to campaign against their own financial interests by supporting restrictions on their fee-charging capacity. That’s a less common view today than when I wrote - somewhat reluctantly, they did agree to 25% increases in student charges back in 2003 - but it is still widely held. This is only partly conventional egalitarian concerns about student access. Rather, it is concern about inequality in Australian society as a whole, which they believe would be exacerbated by some universities becoming more ‘elite’ than they are today on the strength of high student fees. That’s why every public university is quite happy to enrol thousands of full-fee overseas students, but in many cases refuse to offer full-fee places to local students and suffer ideological angst when they do. The overseas students go home without changing Australia’s social structures.

Because these ideological hang-ups are still so prevalent, Universities Australia probably won’t be much more successful than the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. The central agencies wonder why they should spend taxpayer dollars on institutions that are so reluctant to take financial responsibility for themselves. Politicians wonder why they should spend money on institutions that rank lowly in the public’s spending priorities, and where the highest praise they are likely to get for spending initiatives is ‘a good start’. A new name, a new structure, and more effective lobbying methods are all part of what universities need in Canberra, but until they change their message they are never likely to remedy their serious financial problems.

posted on 05 September 2006 by Andrew Norton in Higher Education

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