Sunday, 5 October 2014 - 11:23am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 05/10/2014 - 11:23am

University league tables are mostly a garbage-in-garbage-out statistical exercise, certainly irrelevant to prospective undergraduate students. But it is useful from the Group of Eight elite universities' point of view as a justification for fee deregulation; they provide a higher-quality product, so there should be price-based market segmentation. This is the only way that they're willing to swallow the expansion of deregulation of commonwealth-supported student numbers that the academically barren credential mills like Southern Cross University are demanding; by itself this expansion can only further undermine the academic integrity of the system - an irrelevant quibble for SCU, but very important for the Go8, who have a reputation to trade on.

So in recent weeks SCU's v-c (and chairman of the Regional University Network) Peter Lee has sold the non-elite unis down the river, and endorsed fee deregulation, in exchange for a promise of cross-subsidisation via scholarship funding assistance, effectively coming from the budgets of the Go8. Tactically this is immensely stupid. The Go8 need RUN's support this year, not next year, so very quickly any cross-subsidisation will evaporate: Sorry Pete, in these tough economic circumstances, we have no alternative; it would be unfair to our students who are making such a substantial investment in their futures, etc.

There are few university administrators with any integrity to be found in this squabbling morass. The mass market of kids utterly unsuited (at least at the age of 18) to university, who are swindled into volunteering for a more regressive tax than even the GST (i.e. HECS-HELP), are far from the only victims of credentialism. With the universities drained of the last remnants of their public purpose and irrevocably reconfigured as commercial institutions mainly providing vocational training and R&D for private industry (at the expense of the students and researchers!), public policy debates will become the exclusive domain of paid propagandists like the Institute of Public Affairs and the Grattan Institute (who, far from coincidentally, virtually authored the Pyne plan). Emigration is becoming an increasingly attractive option. Norway looks nice.