I have no wish to go into competition against the ABC's excellent fact checking habits, but I thought I'd share the answer to a question I was posed on Facebook this morning.
"Christopher Pyne claimed on ABC RN this morning that when Whitlam
abolished university fees, it did not change the demographic composition
of the student body, ie "all the middle class people planning on going
to university anyway now simply went for free", and it did not lead to
greater participation by lower ses groups. Opinions? Data?"
Here's what I said:
is using the same data and argument that was used in establishing HECS.
Yes, for the most part demographics did not shift with the - relatively
small - expansion at the Whitlam reforms. But we should remember there
were only a few years of expansion really - by the end of the 70s
unemployment among university graduates was growing so that growth
the 1980s when they wanted to know what the effect of free education
was, found that the new group was mature-age women. In a period where
women's participation was still lower than it needed to be introducing
HECS and impacting that was a big loss. But women now exceed men in
numbers (though not benefits of higher ed of course).
expansion that Pyne won't discuss is post-Dawkins. HECS was a really
excellent system that addressed the equity concern with free education
(working class taxes paying for the perpetuation of elite advantage),
funded the only REALLY significant expansion universities have seen and
included attention to equity. There were and remain problems with
equity, but they were not caused by the HECS system.
is absolutely not the same thing as this and I am angry about using the
pro-HECS arguments for deregulation. Deregulation will be disastrous,
not only for equity (despite scholarships…) but for the labour market in
general. Not straight away…give us a decade. I am furious with the VCs
for supporting this, though it shows that are beyond hope as the ones
who will reform the system (I admit I did have some hope, for a while…).
This is very bad policy, in fact, for everyone. It will help the Go8
bottom line, but not for long. In a decade we will have raised fees as
high as the middle class can bear, low-SES families will have to be
advised to stay out of higher education because the cost benefit doesn't
add up and we will be heading towards an under-skilled and
under-competitive labour market...
I was then asked: So
how do we explain the huge expansion of staffing in universities in the
70s - if it was not in response to increasing student numbers - where
did those rivers of gold come from?
it did grow - figures are [in the book...out soon!]- and quite a lot, it just did not
make the mass system that we see today. But growth slowed really
dramatically c.1978. The system was confused. They were still benefiting from the
Murray review all through the 1960s, the baby boom helped
late 60s to mid-70s. Universities believed they would continue to grow.
They were crowded and the government funded new universities…some of
which opened at exactly the wrong time. The oil shocks had that
unexpected effect on the economy and stagnation in growth in student
numbers hit universities in the late 70s. Universities had NO experience
with responding to that. By 1981 they were in trouble…
I wrote a bit about this with Tim Pitman earlier in the year, see https://theconversation.com/should-we-follow-the-german-way-of-free-higher-education-23970