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Demand-driven system review: experts respond

Written by Tim Pitman, Conor King, Geoff Sharrock and Hamish Coates for The Conversation

The Federal Government has released a review into the demand-driven system of higher education funding implemented by the Labor government in 2009. The review, undertaken by David Kemp and Andrew Norton, largely supports the demand-driven system, and makes 17 recommendations to government. Education Minister Christopher Pyne will now prepare a response, but first, here’s what the experts say about the review’s findings and recommendations.

Tim Pitman, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education

The most significant aspect of the report is that it not only supports maintaining the demand-driven system, but extending it to sub-bachelor places, private providers and the vocational sector. It also recommends removing caps on postgraduate courses that offer community benefit, for example health degrees. Overall, this will help provide access and opportunity for a wide range of students. The review has confirmed that for some students, pathway programs provide the best preparation for university study and extending access to these places will help increase their chances of success, rather than enrolling directly into a bachelor degree.

The reviewers also confirm that quality has been maintained within the system despite its significant expansion. Overall, attrition rates are going down, which is a sign that the system is improving. However, the report recommends dropping enrolment share targets for low socio-economic status students, which is concerning. The most likely outcome of this will be that even if overall access for disadvantaged students does increase, it will do so even more unevenly across the sector than it currently is. Put simply, many disadvantaged students will find that access to higher education will remain limited to certain courses at certain universities. For example, the Group of Eight has been vocal about wanting the right to opt-out of Commonwealth supported places and charge full fees for some of their courses. This would make their universities less, not more accessible.

The report also finds that an increase in maximum student contributions is one way in which the cost to the government could be reduced. It is important to note that the report did not go so far as to make this a recommendation. A fairer way might be to introduce means-testing and require pay-as-you-go for those students most able to do so. This could significantly reduce future bad debt, without any additional cost to students. Overall, the report’s recommendations rightfully have been well received by the sector – but which of the recommendations will the Government adopt?

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Posted 14 April 2014 Posted in General