Universities lose a lottery

In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook statement, the government announced that it would cut part of its ‘performance’ funding for higher education institutions.

The idea was that universities, through ‘compacts’ with the federal government, would sign up to various performance goals relative to a benchmark. If they met their goals, they would get part of the available performance funding.

The student experience and quality of learning performance performance measures will no longer be funded (the MYEFO does not say whether the targets will be abandoned; other parts of the compacts seem to expect unis to do what the Commonwealth wants without funding). Participation and social inclusion performance funding will be retained.

I’m not a fan of these ‘performance’ funds. I’ve called on universities to ignore them. Aside from the difficulty in devising robust indicators that don’t encourage gaming or downplay other important goals, higher education policymaking is too unstable for the performance programs to be credible.

The indicators end up changing almost every year – this abolition is just part of a pattern – so there is little point in universities putting in place long-term programs to achieve their targets. Effectively, the performance funds are little better than lotteries. The universities that happen to be good at whatever indicator is favoured in a particular year will get rewarded, rather than the performance fund causing the good performance.

The universities will be sorry to lose the cash ($105 million in 2013-14). But they won’t be sorry if they also lose the associated bureaucracy of trying to get their share of it.

  1. Agreed – I think its hilarious that every time the sector rearranges itself to respond to performance funding incentives, they change the performance funding incentives.

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