21 July 2016

Australian Universities Funding

The LH Martin Institute has released a report [PDF] by Frank Larkins and Ian Marshman on Domestic Student Load and Financing Trends at Individual Australian Universities: A Comparative Analysis of the Period 2004 to 2009 with 2009 to 2014.  The report raises questions about winners, losers and the quality of tertiary education as a result of uncapped places.

The authors comment
A review of the responses of individual universities to the uncapping of domestic government supported undergraduate places has highlighted a wide diversity of responses with some unexpected outcomes. The study follows a previous one that examined trends on a system-wide basis highlighting major domestic student growth between 2009 and 2014, coupled with an increased dependency on government funding. The key findings pertaining to individual universities are discussed in section 4. 
Some findings highlighting very different responses by universities are:
• The standout universities in terms of domestic student growth in the five years to 2014 are, Deakin, ACU, RMIT, Curtin, Swinburne, Western Sydney and Macquarie each with growth of more than 6,000 EFTSL. No university had this level of growth in the previous five years from 2004. 
• Marginal growth of less than 1,000 EFTSL was recorded by Southern Cross, Murdoch, and Victoria U, while Federation, Charles Darwin and ANU reported growth of less than 1,500 EFTSL. 
• The seven universities that have made the largest gains in domestic student revenues since 2009 are Deakin ($166.5m), ACU ($162.6m), RMIT ($141.3m), Curtin ($134.5m), Queensland ($133.4m), Swinburne ($128.1m) and Western Sydney ($120.7m). All of these universities, except Queensland, experienced a reduction in the rate of growth in overseas student revenue during the same period compared with the previous five years 2004 to 2009. 
• Surprisingly, eleven universities increased their domestic T&L funding by more than $100m between 2009 and 2014 compared with only two between 2004 and 2009. 
• While all universities increased their government teaching and learning funding from 2009 to 2014, only one-third of the universities increased their domestic fee-paying income in this five year period. This contrasts with the previous five years when two-thirds of the universities increased their domestic fee-paying revenues. 
• The universities that have maintained their focus on overseas student revenue growth have been mainly four of the Go8 universities. As a result, in the five years to 2014 the universities with the highest combined domestic and overseas teaching and learning revenue growth were Melbourne at $242m, Queensland at $226m, Sydney at $211m and UNSW at $195m. The changes in domestic T&L revenue growth and the changes in overseas student fee revenue growth for the two five year periods under consideration are given in Tables B2 and B5 respectively for all 38 universities examined.
The authors comment
.... it seems that as a result of introduction of the demand-driven system, Australian universities have generally opted for growth in domestic places supported either by Commonwealth loans and/or grants. A small number of universities has continued to pursue growth in international students. The universities which seem to have taken most advantage from the change in funding for domestic places are generally a select number of relatively diverse teaching-intensive universities which have shown a readiness to respond to the change in policy. Queensland is the only G8 university in this group. 
Our findings have led to the identification in section 5 of five key policy areas that warrant consideration in any review of national higher education policy. The issues identified are presented here in the form of questions. 
• Given the rate of change that has occurred within some institutions, are universities adequately accountable for demonstrating that their quest for growth is in the national interest and has not been at the expense of quality? 
• Is it in the public interest that teaching and learning funding continue to be allocated exclusively on the basis of student load rather than at least partially on the basis of completions or other output measures, whether at award or unit level? 
• What policy measures might government contemplate to strengthen strategic capability across the sector given the variability of university outcomes identified in the present work? 
• In an uncapped domestic enrolment system there appears to be a very limited market for domestic fee-paying courses. What alternative options might enable the higher education system to become more fiscally sustainable over the longer term? 
• Is the current escalating level of government funding for teaching and learning, coupled with a declining government investment in research training and research, the right approach to contribute long term economic and social benefits for Australia?