Investment required in retention and completion of higher education
Posted : Friday, March 30, 2012
A stronger focus on investment in retention and completion of
higher education is required, Education Base Funding Review
Chair, Dr Jane Lormax-Smith told a CEDA forum in
"Universities are the most important feature of our social
fabric - they drive development of professional skills, provide a
cultural landscape, [arena for] public debate and argument, and
engage people in creativity, innovation and improve productivity,"
The system should be transparent, consistent and retain
autonomy, with fees that do not create barriers for students, she
Dr Lormax-Smith highlighted the following suggestions made in
the review to improve the higher education system:
- An investment in better reporting systems;
- Better ways for the universities to catalogue what they spend
in each course;
- Underfunded subjects should have their funding increased;
- Less clusters (groupings of costs amalgamated);
- Introduction by the Federal Government of different resumes to
- Base funding should not be taken away; and
- Rewarding teachers to in assist improving culture, increasing
retention and completion.
However, she warned that if we continue to have systemic
underfunding in universities, accompanied by a demand led system,
with cost charges that don't match the cost of courses, it poses a
"If you encourage more young people to go to university and have
targets and expansion (in the higher education sector), it is
inevitable that the types of students that go (to university) will
have lower ATAR scores, will be less well prepared, have less
social capital and you have a major risk in terms of efficiency as
they will churn through the system and drop out," she said.
"You need extra financial support because if you invest in the
first year of university, students from disadvantaged backgrounds
with low ATARs can survive to become graduates and successful in
Dr Lormax-Smith also addressed the controversial
issue of funding for base research capability and our nations
skills shortage, highlighting that universities receive funding
from the government to provide teaching that is informed by
"If you are a non-university provider, without the protocols
telling you you have to do research, then the government should pay
you less," she said.
"We need non-university providers because in areas of skills
shortages, like teaching or nursing, we need those skills to be
developed, but our argument in the report was that they should
receive less funding in those areas of activity."
Dr Lormax-Smith stated the Government has already committed the
following to expand the system but more action is need:
- By 2025, 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds will hold a degree
at a bachelor level;
- Universities can now offer as many place as they can facilitate
(after the removal of capped student places); and
- Universities should have 20 per cent of their places occupied
by low socio-economic status (SES) students.
University of South Australia, Vice Chancellor and
President, Professor Peter Hoj echoed the need to have a
greater focus on investment and return.
"People with a higher education turbo charge the economy and
enhances productivity levels and that creates opportunities for
others, even people who don't have an education," he said.
Professor Hoj said universities must be internationally
competitive and more investment must also be made in the school
system to ensure students are prepared for university.
More money is needed to expand foundation studies programs to
ensure students were properly prepared for tertiary studies with
time management skills, resilience and the capacity for
self-directed learning, he said.
The State Government, a significant beneficiary of a strong
university system, should provide a greater share of funding to the
sector as it had a stake in ensuring that young people choosing a
university will want to stay in South Australia, he said.
Professor Hoj disagreed with the Base Funding Review's finding
that it should cost no more to fund post graduate students than
graduates, because "post graduate students need to be educated at a
higher level and this requires smaller classes and higher qualified
The Review emphasised that fees should reflect the cost of
providing the courses. Without this, fees for high demand courses
were likely to rise prohibitively and less popular courses would be
cut, he said.
University of Adelaide, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice
President (Academic), Professor Pasquale Questor
emphasised the economic advantage additional funding can have to
the higher education system.
"The sector has delivered strong growth, [yet] it can be a
sector which is volatile so relying on the export dollar may be too
risky a situation. Fundamental productivity gains from investing in
education is actually benefiting the individual through their
earning capacity, and benefiting the economy through the input of
them earning more, consuming more and contributing more," she
On social disadvantage, Professor Questor highlighted that
having more educated people results in society operating better as
it "provides an articulate debate because citizens can see things
from different perspectives and can be critical thinkers."
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