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catallaxy in technical exile

A better way to increase the number of medical students

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Friday’s COAG announcement (pdf) that the government would increase from 10% to 25% the proportion of domestic fee-paying students who can be full-fee paying and that the maximum FEE-HELP loan they can take out would go up from $51,000 to $80,000 hasn’t won the federal government too many plaudits.

Jenny Macklin, probably privately fuming that the Labor Premiers had undermined her by agreeing to the full-fee places, pressed on regardless:

The Howard Government is Americanising our education system under the guise of doctor shortages. John Howard’s agenda is for a US-style education system where those who pay can buy their entry into a degree. We cannot have a medical education system where money talks and talent walks.

The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee made another of their ‘yes, but’ comments:

Vice-chancellors welcomed a related COAG measure to lift the amount full-fee-paying medical students could borrow from $50,000 to $80,000, but warned this was still not enough to cover the cost of a medical degree.

I’ll be having a lot to say about the FEE-HELP loan cap when my paper ‘HELPless’ is released by the CIS in a couple of weeks time. Medical courses are just a few of more than 300 undergraduate courses where the maximum loan falls short of the fees. However in medicine I think there is a way of increasing the number of medical places, increasing average revenue per university student, and ending the perceived unfairness of full-fee places.

Critics of the full-fee places claim, as Macklin does in her press release, that they privilege money over talent. This has never been a very credible line of argument. As I have pointed out many times, HECS ENTER scores reflect supply and demand, not merit or the talent of students. Full fee places increase supply and therefore push ENTER scores down. But for the most part these kids are still very bright. I’m pretty sure that at the University of Melbourne the median ENTER score of full-fee students is still above that of Melbourne students generally, because they are clustered in courses with very high ENTER requirements even after the full-fee reduction. While wrong-headed, the merit argument seems to resonate. The greater injustice, in my view, is that students with no relevant differences pay vastly different prices. The cost of getting an ENTER of, say 99.3 rather than 99.4, can be tens of thousands of dollars at Melbourne University. While the students who pay are accepting this injustice as the lesser of two evils (the other being missing out completely) it is hardly a satisfactory state of affairs.

The way around this, in my view, is to put all medical students in hybrid places. The 25% limit applies not to students but to ‘places’ in the course. How they are matched to persons and years is legally irrelevant. Under this system, all (or most – there might be exceptions in special cases) medical students would be enrolled as full-fee students. For the first part of their course they would pay full-fees, which they could do without breaking their $80,000 limit. After that, they would be converted to a Commonwealth-supported place to finish their course.

This would mean that there would be a single entry requirement for all students. It would be a fairer system of fee charging, because everyone (or nearly everyone) would pay the average revenue per student, rather than the current system of arbitrarily charging some students ridiculously low prices and others ridiculously high prices to get the average revenue per student necessary to conduct the course. It would be better for universities because they would have a better chance of filling their full-fee allocation, which they will probably struggle to do now, since the gap between the maximum loan and the fee can be $100,000 or more. In medicine, where demand far outstrips a supply that will still be limited by law, the commercial risks for universities are low – at worst some shuffling of students between institutions. Only the extreme aversion to controversy that most universities feel stands in the way.

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Written by Admin

February 12, 2006 at 7:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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