Why do university lobby groups under-sell their product?

As expected, my Graduate Winners report generated plenty of controversy. Two of the university lobby groups put responses on their websites (Universities Australia here; Innovative Research Universities here). A couple of VCs added hyperbole to the sober complaints of their representative organisations:

Administrators and students alike have hit out, with Central Queensland University vice-chancellor Scott Bowman likening it to a “funding regime of which North Korea would be proud”.

Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven slammed the report’s focus on numbers while failing to recognise the wider community value of higher education. “This seems to be a calculator with a personality disorder,” Professor Craven said.

One common criticism was that Graduate Winners does not count every possible public benefit of higher education (though it has the most detailed empirical analysis of this issue yet published in Australia, it is true that not every public benefit claim was investigated). But you would struggle to realise from just reading the lobby group reaction that Graduate Winners also has generally very positive news about graduate prospects. The vast majority of graduates do well financially out of their degrees, and enjoy other non-financial benefits as well. And there was no criticism for not pursuing this issue further.

In other words, the VCs appear to think that total course cost increases of between $7,000 and $19,000 for most courses would have disastrous effects and must be loudly fought, but lifetime benefit, including financial gains from their services averaging hundreds of thousands of dollars, were not worth mentioning.

I think this one-sided reaction reflects the history of higher education in Australia, and mindsets that have not changed despite the underlying realities having substantially shifted.Read More »