A serious policy dilemma requires serious contributions to debate

12 Sep 2014

John Quiggin’s article in this morning’s Conversation (‘Three misguided beliefs of the Group of Eight universities’) is an attack on a straw man.  It is lacking in evidence, consistency or logic. 

“The article attributes to the Go8 several policy positions that it has never advocated”, said Executive Director, Mike Gallagher.

“The Go8 does not suggest that the University of Phoenix is ‘the way of the future’. That model may be one among many potential offerings in a more open and diverse system.  There will be many others.”

“Similarly, the Go8 has not advocated privatisation along the lines of the Victorian Government’s approach in the VET sector.  In higher education, diversification is first of all about levelling the playing field for providers already operating in the sector under differing conditions based on history, rather than on what different providers can offer students.”

“Professor Quiggin identifies problems, but not solutions.  Price caps produce uniform fees, which is why the Go8 supports fee deregulation.  Relying on a single model of higher education provider narrows options for both universities and students. “

“The current uniformity in the Australian system is a result of Government decisions, rather than ‘competition’.  Professor Quiggin’s potted history of the sector shows that government edict is not the best way to set up a diverse and responsive system: it would be better to give institutions the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and student needs.”

“Unlike the Go8, Professor Quiggin doesn’t suggest an alternative.  Instead, he proposes that higher education should be based on ‘assumptions of affordable and universal access to diverse and high-quality education’. But how is this supposed to be achieved? No Australian government has yet been prepared to meet the full costs of a mass system, and no Australian government could do it, without greatly increased taxes.  The only available options are fee deregulation, or a return to a smaller, capped system, which as Quiggin rightly argues, encourages homogeneity.”

“A mass system based on a single model of provision, with limited competition, and reliant on public funding will not work.  Contrary to Professor Quiggin’s hopes, such a system would not be ‘affordable’, ‘universal’, ‘diverse’ or ‘high quality’.”

“Decisions made this year will decide the future of Australia’s higher education sector.  As Universities Australia Chair Professor Sandra Harding has clearly stated: ‘the status quo is not an option’.”

“Trivial sloganeering and misrepresentation of arguments does not contribute to a solution.”

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Gina D. Cruz
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