Nirvana of HE funding is not US and Australia, warns Gunn

Too many policy experts look to the US and Australia as “some higher education funding nirvana”, according to the vice-chancellor who chairs Million+.

May 15, 2014

The comments from Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, follow a recent report highlighting lessons England could draw from the Australian higher education system.

Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and former special adviser to David Willetts, published last month a Hepi pamphlet on England-Australia comparisons. “Australia’s approach to higher education policy provides an excellent opportunity for British policymakers to learn from the experience of another country with a comparable system,” he wrote.

Libby Hackett, chief executive of the University Alliance mission group, also contributed to the Hepi publication and has argued that Australia’s low-subsidy student loans system could be a role model for England.

Like England, Australia has a funding system based around tuition fees and income-contingent loans. However, Australia’s conservative government this week announced that it would abolish all caps on tuition fees, allowing universities to charge what they like.

In a speech to the annual meeting of Million+ today, Professor Gunn was set to say: “There has been far too much talk about how to amend the student support regime to require graduates to repay more of the costs of higher education while the needs of part-time students and those who want to study at university later in life or for a postgraduate qualification are almost completely ignored.

“Too many politicians and political advisers look to the US where many students do not complete or default on their loans and to Australia to provide answers to what they hope will be some higher education funding nirvana.”

Professor Gunn continues: “Strangely they never look to the Nordic countries where research funding is much less concentrated and funding regimes are more favourable to student participation and they overlook the German Lander which have now all abandoned polices to charge university fees.

“Politicians and university leaders also ignore at their peril YouGov’s recent poll in which 60 per cent of parents said that they felt that university was no longer value for money.”

Professor Gunn adds: “In the run-up to the general election, we, the vice-chancellors, need to stand up and be counted.

“We should argue for a new vision for higher education and the level of investment that the country needs to ensure that universities can deliver new opportunities for the next generation of students, work with businesses of all sizes and contribute to society and the economy.”

In a 2010 report, Million+ identified a graduate tax as the most “progressive” option for university funding.

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Reader's comments (1)

This is incorrect. The reason HEPI is focussing on Australia is because their recent reforms have not been closely followed within Whitehall. The funding systems in other countries (including Germany, which notably has a lower proportion of their population go through university than the OECD average) may well be worth studying too - it's not an either / or. But it would be absurd to ignore Australia when it has so much in common with the UK / England and when we have the luxury of being able to learn from their experience.