Monday, January 12, 2009

Grants will help repair a dilapidated system

New funding suggests post-compulsory education is getting the attention it deserves,

OST of the Australian Gov-ernment ’s $1.7 billion capital and recurrent grants for post-compulsory education are like the Government ’s economic stimulus, of which they are a part: temporary expedients to compensate for structural deficiencies that need basic reform.

The biggest allocation was $580 million from the Education Investment Fund, which was brought forward from its initial timetable. Half the funds are allocated to researchonly facilities and the balance are for research and teaching, with some projects explicitly including clinical or commercial applications. Five of the 11 projects funded are in the physical sciences, four are in health, one is in design and the other is in the social sciences.

National benefit will be gained from the grant for the University of Canberra ’s International Microsimulation Centre based on the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. The centre produces excellent technical and more accessible reports on social, economic and business issues.

For example, one of its recent publications, What Price the Clever Country?: The Costs of Tertiary Education in Australia, profiles tertiary students, how they meet the costs of living while they study, how much they pay for university compared with students in the rest of the world, how their HECS debts are repaid and the lifetime financial value of a tertiary qualification. The centre will be awarded $11 million from the ElF, by far the smallest grant from the fund.

The equal second biggest of the Government ’s recent allocations to tertiary education was $500 million through a new Teaching and Learning Capital Fund for higher education. This is like the Better Universities Renewal Fund allocated in the 2008-09 budget, except that it is allocated according to domestic student load and no longer takes into account research performance.

A little more than $7 million of the Teaching and Learning Capital Fund was allocated to Bond University, the Melbourne College of Divinity and Notre Dame Australia, which increasingly seem to he only nominally private institutions.

Private vocational and higher education institutions have been making a curious argument recently that there is no relevant distinction between public and private institutions for the purposes of eligibility for public funding, but that private institutions are special in their attractiveness to students and relevance to business.

The Government allocated another $500 million for TAPE and community education infrastructure.

TAPE institutes have been invited to apply for grants of up to $8 million towards immediate maintenance, small capital works and purchase of equipment and plant.

TAPE institutes may also apply for competitive grants of up to $10 million towards capital works and provision of technology and equipment to help their region adjust to economic and climate change.

Adult and community education providers have been invited to apply for small grants of up to $100,000 towards maintenance or buying equipment and for larger grants of up to $1 million for major upgrades.

This is a valuable contribution to a sector that has long been overlooked and underfunded by all three levels of government, and indicates that the Australian Government is starting to consider post-compulsory education as a whole, beyond the formal vocational and higher education sectors.

The smallest recent announcement of $111.5 million is from the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund.

Almost all public universities received an allocation from the fund this round, with grants averaging $3.5 million each. Almost $12 million was allocated to five projects that may be broadly described by the US term early outreach: universities working with primary and junior secondary pupils and their parents and teachers to raise aspiration and achievement for admission to higher education.

As welcome as these grants are, many are compensating for inadequacies in government policy and funding. Commonwealth funding for domestic students has included a capital roll-in since 1994, when the government gave universities responsibility for resource management decisions including capital expansion, maintenance, refurbishment and replacement The large accumulations of deferred maintenance reported by some universities are therefore the result of their improvident financial allocations over the last 15 years.

But the root of the problem is that the funding for domestic students is not enough to support the teaching and facilities expected by students, the research that universities want to conduct and the capital development to support both.

Gavin Moodie is a higher education poLicy anaLyst at Griffith University who writes reguLarLy for the HES.

Australian National

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