The Consultation Paper considers the distribution of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs), investigating how CSPs should be allocated including where to make a cut of 3000 CSPs – close to five percent of the current allocation. In our submission, we note that CSPs form a minority of postgraduate coursework places, with demand for postgraduate courses far exceeding current Government funding levels. We suggest that the CSP allocation for postgraduate degrees be based on criteria of exclusion rather than inclusion, where a case would have to be made for each excluded degree that it is not of sufficient benefit to merit Government funding. We also discuss adverse equity outcomes of inclusion criteria, and recommend that some funded places should be created for disadvantaged students if the Department proceeds with the suggestions they outline in the Consultation Paper. So as not to disadvantage current students, we outline that transitional arrangements should be implemented with the first removals of any CSPs to occur four years from now to allow students to complete their study plans. Finally, we voice our opposition to funding cuts to enabling courses.
On this basis, we have made the following recommendations:
Recommendation one: That the Government establish a review into postgraduate coursework fee regulation to explore options and to understand the impact of fee regulation on the higher education system.
Recommendation two: That the 3000 discontinued CSPs be returned to the allocation pool, in the short-term.
Recommendation three: That CSP allocation be determined on exclusion rather than inclusion criteria, with the number of CSPs increased.
Recommendation four: That some CSPs are reserved for disadvantaged postgraduate students in otherwise full-fee paying courses, in order to offset negative equity outcomes of the allocation criteria.
Recommendation five: That any reductions in the allocation of CSPs for particular courses be implemented in 2023 or later, so as not to disadvantage current undergraduate students under the “Melbourne model”.
Recommendation six: That demand-driven funding arrangements be implemented for enabling courses.
We welcome this opportunity to contribute our perspective on the performance-based allocation of Commonwealth funding. The provided consultation paper lists a total of seven major consultation questions. The following submission does not seek to answer all of these questions, but will provide CAPA’s perspective on those that would most directly affect the students of Australian universities. We discuss several of the proposed performance measures, drawing attention to pitfalls which must be considered and mitigated prior to implementation. We believe that, for the funding scheme to achieve its objective of promoting quality education, universities should be assessed against benchmarks or targets rather than in a competitive fashion.
We agree with the mission of Performance-Based Funding (PBF) to promote quality in universities, as set out in the Department of Education and Training’s Discussion Paper. This scheme has the potential to be an incentive for improving student outcomes, used in conjunction with legislative instruments which enforce minimum standards. However, such a large change to how funding is distributed must be carefully considered to ensure the outcome matches the intention, and particularly to ensure that disadvantaged groups of students are not further marginalised.
We preface our feedback on the Discussion Paper by noting that universities have increasingly been asked to do more with less. Universities have been subjected to successive funding cuts, particularly the $2.1 billion cut to the Commonwealth Grants Scheme and the Higher Education Loan Programme in December 2017, followed by the the $328.5 million cut to research funding announced in December 2018. These cuts were motivated by the Government’s desire to deliver short-term budget savings, with disastrous long-term consequences for the education attainment of Australians, as well as for national research output (CAPA, 2018). We also note that current funding levels are insufficient to support the number of students in postgraduate study. This is discussed in our response to the Consultation Paper on the reallocation of Commonwealth supported places for enabling, sub-bachelor and postgraduate courses. There is an urgent need to fund universities at an appropriate level, in addition to examining how that funding should be distributed.
In this submission, we aim to assist the working group by providing recommendations on addressing Challenges B and D that were presented in the framing document for this inquiry. We propose that the financial burdens facing relocating students can be significantly reduced by extending and increasing the value of student income support. We also suggest that increased university investment in on-campus counselling services and student organisations can help RRR students to adjust to university life and provide more formal and informal support towards their wellbeing. Finally, we suggest that the competitive nature of research degree scholarships disadvantages RRR students who have often had less opportunities than their city-based peers to meet the competitive criteria required to be awarded a stipend. As a result, CAPA recommends the following: