The communique from last Friday’s education ministers meeting stated, in part, that:
The Teacher Education Expert Panel … will focus on strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE [Initial Teacher Education]. This will include but not be limited to advising on how Commonwealth supported places for teaching should be allocated based on quality and other relevant factors. [Emphasis added.]
This post examines how the government might go about doing this and the problems it would face.
Discipline-level funding under Job-ready Graduates
An initial problem is that the government does not allocate Commonwealth supported places to teaching.
Under section 30-10 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 the government has no power to allocate student places except for ‘designated courses’, of which more below.
Education is not designated. It is funded under a block grant for ‘higher education courses’. Dollars rather than places are the unit of allocation and the entity that receives the allocation is a higher education institution, not a course or discipline. Recipient universities are free to distribute these dollars between courses according to their own priorities.
With its COVID-19 short courses the previous government bypassed the restriction on allocating student places by allocating dollars to specific courses instead. Using the funding agreements to quarantine dollars for education would, however, be a bad move. It is inconsistent with the apparent legislative intent, which is for university flexibility except in the case of designation. We need to restore full operation of the rule of law in higher education policy. Without amending HESA 2003 that means designation.
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Post updated 1/01/22: Clarifying that the rules apply to non-completion of subjects as well as academic fails, updating to take account of amendments, and removing now irrelevant 2020 content.
On 1 January 2022 a further element of the Job-ready Graduates package commenced, which restricts Commonwealth support for students who fail to complete at least half the subjects they have taken.
General rule – failing to successfully complete more than half of subjects leads to loss of funding entitlements for that course
The general rule is that students who fail to successfully complete more than half their subjects in a course will lose their entitlement to Commonwealth support: section 36-13 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA 2003) for Commonwealth supported students, for FEE-HELP students section 104-1A . At public universities, FEE-HELP borrowers are mainly postgraduates, as they cannot offer undergraduate full-fee places except in narrow circumstances.
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In his multifaceted critique of higher education in The Australian yesterday, Adam Creighton makes one infrequently-made claim: that ‘grade inflation is rife’.
In Australia we often worry about soft marking at the pass-fail point, which Adam also mentions. But grade inflation controversies overseas are about too many students receiving high marks. In England, an increase in the proportion of students receiving first-class degrees from 16% in 2010-11 to 29% by 2017-18 has attracted the regulator’s attention. In the United States, critics complain that ‘A’ is the most popular grade.
Australian universities are not required to report student marks, and so we cannot conclusively confirm or reject the grade inflation hypothesis. But the figures we have do not look overly-skewed to the top.
In a paper looking at the relationship between ATAR and socioeconomic status, the NSW Universities Admission Centre earlier this year reported on first-year university grade point averages (GPA). They used a 7 point scale for their GPA.
The UAC’s main point is that ATAR rather than SES best predicts GPA. But it is striking that even the most able first-year students, coming into universities with ATARs of 90 or above, averaged less than a credit grade.Read More »