Monthly Archives: September 2011 - Page 2

A CIS blog

My former CIS colleagues are now blogging.

Are high student:staff ratios bad for retention?

According to the Universities Australia productivity paper, high student:staff ratios have a negative effect on retention. The citation for this claim is to a 2001 American academic journal article. But what does the local evidence suggest?

The figure below shows the student:staff ratios reported by Universities Australia and the attrition data reported by DEEWR for domestic commencing students (so retention is 100% minus the attrition rate).

Now there are problems with both sets of numbers. Actual teaching capacity is understated and actual attrition is overstated because of problems with the way the data is collected. But I don’t think those problems can explain away the trend evident in the figure. If the UA hypothesis was correct for Australia, student:staff ratios and attrition should be positively correlated: if SSRs go up, so should attrition. Instead, they are negatively correlated: as SSRs have gone up, attrition has gone down. Read more »

Teaching funding and teaching costs

A new Universities Australia lobbying document released today (The Australian‘s report is here) contains some not previously publicly released information on university costs, based on information from six universities. The data is presented in a slightly confusing way, as UA have made the assumption that 25% of Commonwealth subsidies paid on a per student basis is for research, creating separate funding ‘gaps’ for teaching and research.

However, what it shows (if you get your calculator out) is that teaching-driven Commonwealth funding of $16,068 per average EFTSL and teaching-driven expenses of $16,151 per average EFTSL are pretty much in alignment. This helps explain why so many universities are significantly ‘over-enrolled’ – once the demand-driven funding system is fully operational they expect to at least break-even by avoiding research costs.

The funding ‘gap’ varies significantly between fields of study:

Read more »

Will third party campaign finance law increase or decrease political participation?

Today The Conversation website published an article by me criticising regulation of third parties, and another by Marian Sawer partly critiquing my article.

My article was mainly about what I regard as the systemic effects of third party regulation, which is how restricting third parties affects the overall balance of political influence. This is principally about the big third parties, the organisations capable of reaching and potentially influencing a mass audience. These include unions, business, environmental groups, and GetUp!. At the systemic level, the most important aspects of third party regulation are the caps on expenditure, and to a lesser extent the caps on donations.

Sawer’s article is mainly about what I call the participation effects of third party regulation, the opportunities that individuals and small groups have to get involved in politics. Unless many of these third parties spontaneously pursue the same causes, I don’t think they are likely to have much effect on political outcomes. But in a liberal democracy, people being able to have their say is important in itself.

According to Sawer, third party regulation could be positive for participation. The argument here seems to be that there is limited space for political communication, and to the extent to which attention is grabbed by a few big players this denies smaller groups their opportunity to be heard. Read more »