Notes on the Job-ready Graduates bill, as introduced

The Job-ready-Graduates bill was introduced in the House of Representatives this morning. A couple of points on the funding floor and the social work/mental health deal with the National Party:

Funding floor

One unpleasant surprise in the draft Job-ready Graduates bill of earlier this month was that, with each funding agreement, the minister could reduce a university’s funding without parliamentary scrutiny or approval.

The bill as introduced has a clear fix of this problem – but from 2025: amending section 30-27(3)(b) of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA 2003). From then, the minister cannot reduce the university’s maximum basic Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for higher education courses below what it was the previous year.

The problem in the interim is a transition period to the new system, in which reducing each university’s Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) funding is a key policy objective.

The new bill does provide for these new lower amounts from 2021-2024 to be set in a legislative instrument, which would give them parliamentary scrutiny that the current funding agreements lack: amending section 30-27(2). But legally I am not sure that this is stronger than the funding agreements that need to be signed in any case: section 30-1 of the current HESA 2003.

Universities have been promised the same level of base funding as currently over the 2021-2023 period, including money from new equity and industry engagement funds that are partly being financed from reductions in the CGS.

The legislation authorises payment of that transition funding, but does not guarantee it. The same problem exists for the new equity and industry engagement funds. All these programs are financed from the ‘other grants’ provisions of HESA 2003 (division 41). Their funding levels are set annually by the minister.

Indeed, in what seems to be against the intent of existing section 41-50, in the last couple of years the government has abandoned the previous practice of listing funding of each of the other grants in the required legislative instrument, the most important of which currently are the Research Support Program and equity funding.

Instead, the section 41-50 legislative instrument is just a circular reference back to the legislative instrument for the aggregate amount. Effectively, this allows the funding for the various programs to be determined administratively without detailed parliamentary scrutiny.

Social work and mental health

The National Party staged a revolt on $14,500 student contributions for social work and mental health students, which led to a compromise announced earlier this week. At least some of these student will pay $7,950 a year instead, about $1,100 a year more than now.

But the finances of the Tehan reforms rely heavily on big cuts to current funding cluster 3, which includes both social work and psychology. The government could not compromise too far on this without major implications for the rest of the package.

To sidestep this problem, the government has created two new categories of ‘Professional pathway psychology’ and ‘Professional pathway social work’. The legislation includes these in its tables of Commonwealth and student contributions, but it is not clear how these categories will work in practice. This is because the funding system is based on the discipline of the subject, not on the field of the student’s course.

As an example of the issues this creates, Deakin University’s Bachelor of Social Work curriculum includes several subjects that would go into the $14,500 category: Sociology, public policy, Indigenous studies and a general psychology unit. Perhaps all these subjects will be classified at the lower rate, but if so that’s a big change to the funding system.

Another implication of the ‘professional pathway’ category is that it probably means that a student who did a social work subject as part of another degree would pay a per subject rate based on $14,500 rather than $7,950 annual rate.

With the minister in his National Press Club speech stressing that high fees could be avoided by taking cheaper subjects, this could cause considerable confusion.

7 thoughts on “Notes on the Job-ready Graduates bill, as introduced

  1. Thanks Andrew. For social work and psychology, I expect that there will be a pair of new rules added to the CGS guidelines similar to the existing exception for clinical psychology. The student contribution amounts will still depend on the field of education for the unit of study, but as is already the case for clinical psychology, there will also be a dependency on the course of study.

    A bizarre and probably unintended consequence of the Bill as introduced today is that postgraduate clinical psychology will now attract lower total funding than most undergraduate psychology. In the current CGS funding structure, the whole purpose of the exception for clinical psychology is to give it a higher total funding rate than other psychology, in recognition of the higher costs of postgraduate clinical training.

    Like

  2. i’m not on twitter so I’ll have to do this the old way.

    Your chart has a couple of errors.

    For pre-2021 students, ‘pathway’ and ‘interest’ students both have the same student contribution ($6804 in 2021) and the same govt contribution ($11015); and for clinical psych, the student contribution is the same as for all other psych ($6804), it is just the govt contribution that is higher ($13547).

    Like

  3. I take the last point back! Clinical gets a student price drop, so they are not grandfathered, and pre-2021 students doing clinical psychology will have the same funding rates as new students. So there are 4 distinct funding levels for psychology in 2021 (new pathway, new interest, all clinical, pre-2021 non-clinical).

    What a mess.

    Like

  4. I had the grandfathered pathway psychology Commonwealth contribution wrong, but I am still getting 5 funding rates:

    Commonwealth contribution Student contribution
    New student, bachelor degree accredited psychologist pathway 13250 7950
    New student, taking psychology subject for interest 1100 14500
    New student, masters degree for clinical psychology 13250 3950
    Pre-2021 student, bachelor degree accredited for psychologist pathway 11015 6804
    Pre-2021 student, taking psychology subject for interest 11015 6804
    Pre-2021 student, masters degree for clinical psychology 13500 3950

    Like

  5. Hmm. Yes, I see.

    It is almost certainly a drafting error – they have missed one figure when making the last-minute tweaks (+$250 for CCA in cluster 1 and 2 and -$250 for SCA band 1 and 2).

    I think that in s33-10(2), the amount $13,500 in item 5 is supposed to match up to the amount for funding cluster 2 in s33-10(1) ($13,250).

    That will be fully consistent with the stated policy intent for there to be no mixing of old and new rates for a unit of study. When it does, the difference between item 3 and 6 of your list will disappear.

    Like

  6. Quite possibly. There was a quite a big redraft between the first and second versions of the bill, including that were probably last minute changes via the deal with the Nats. Very easy for mistakes to slip in (as I found myself…).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s