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More full-fee confusion

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Yesterday I wrote a short piece for Crikey on Kim Beazley’s reiteration of Labor’s long-standing policy of abolishing full-fee undergraduate places at Australian universities.

The arguments will be familiar to many Catallaxy readers: we need full-fee places because quotas keep the number of student places below the capacity of universities. While we should abolish quotas, if we do not then the existing policy is the second-best option. Labor’s policy creates losers without creating winners.

As today’s ‘Comments, corrections, clarifications, and cock-ups’ section reveals, not all of Crikey‘s readers were convinced.

An anonymous WA Economics and Commerce faculty member rejects my argument that full-fee students don’t lack merit by saying that 100% of the full-fee students in his faculty had lower tertiary entry scores than the lowest HECS-placed student. For a start, this is probably untrue. This year, the cut-off for Commerce (pdf) at UWA was 85.3 in a Commonwealth-supported place, and 83.4 for a full-fee place. However, disadvantaged UWA applicants can get up to 5% bonus on their actual TER, so some of them would have come in on lower scores than the full-fee students. There is no meaningful difference between a student with 83.4 and one with 85.3. They should both be admitted if the university has places – which they do with the full-fee policy, but probably won’t with Labor’s policy.

James Ferguson thinks he has me on that point:

Then he tells us how government quotas are shattering dreams because not everyone can get a subsidised place, even though more subsidised places is exactly what Labor were offering.

Labor were offering more places – but in aggregate, not where particular students want them. The political reality is that demand for places has never played much of a role in their allocation. New places are more likely to go to campuses in marginal seats. The ‘sandstone’ universities favoured by many full-fee students rarely get many new places. And even if governments did become more sensitive to student demand, the quotas are sorted out well before school results are known and final applications and offers sorted out. Only by coincidence can a quota system match actual demand for a given course.

Wicandu Bearter [sic] says that:

As for quotas, the reason we need them is to ensure that the money we do invest in education is not misappropriated by those whose ambitions would outstrip their potential or their past record of achievement. It’s a cruel world.

On Wicandu’s analysis someone with an ENTER of 99.3 who will just miss out on Arts/Law at the U of M, has ambitions outstripping their potential – rather than ambitions outstripping a very limited number of Commonwealth-supported places. And what of someone studying Applied Science at the University of Ballarat, where the ENTER requirement is 50.15? That’s a far more plausible case of ambitions and potential being out of alignment. But on Wicandu’s argument, they are more worthy of investment. And of course with full-fee places ‘we’ do not invest in them, they do. On Wicandu’s (and Labor’s ) argument people should be forbidden from investing in their own human capital. I think that’s absurd.

And talking of ambitions outstripping potential, Wicandu, I hope that most full-fee students would realise that you don’t need an apostrophe to create a plural:

Ask any regular taxpaying Joe or Joanna what they think the role of Australian universities is, and the answer will be something like: “to educate Australian’s seeking university level education”.

But sharper people than Wicandu don’t get the rationale for full-fee places. That’s a political reason for abolishing them – they give the government grief because they offend intuitions about merit, and only confusing arguments can explain why those intuitions are wrong. But we should fix the underlying problem, quotas, rather than reduce choice further, as Labor proposes.

Written by Admin

April 11, 2006 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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