On Ian Young on Deregulation

Ian Young – ANU VC and head of the Group of 8 elite universities – first championed student fee deregulation as the only way to turn ANU into Australia’s own Harvard. Now, in “Survival of the Deregulated”, he takes another tack.

Decades of voter neglect have led governments to squeeze universities: “Universities are expanding rapidly with fewer dollars per student.” Meanwhile costs to government have soared, leaving no one happy.

Deregulation is the “lifeline” and he is the hard headed pragmatist. Except that the argument is full of holes. It’s true as he says that government funding per student fell between 1997 and 2012. But much of this was cost shifting from governments to student fees, leaving universities no worse off. Some was due to indexing of government grants below inflation, leading to a slow erosion of government funding. But in 2012 government funding was indexed to relevant wage inflation. So funding per student is stable under the current system. Is that “unsustainable”?

Maybe Young meant the rising costs to government are unsustainable, politically? But that concedes too much even on his own terms. If rising HELP debt is unsustainable, what does he think is going to happen once university fees are uncapped?

Finally, it’s just not true that deregulation is the only response available to government plans to slash funding for higher education. Fees could remain regulated but take up the reduction in subsidy — not ideal if you think education is a public good, but still far from dangerous aspirations for the “US model”.

Or better, fees could be regulated at the cost of providing the student’s education, after subsidy. As Ian Young himself has said, universities already over-charge their students to plump up their research funds. Surely that’s not why the elite research universities now want to be able to charge whatever they want?

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The crisis of climate leadership at our universities

A piece recently published in the Fifth Estate.


2 July 2014 — Is climate change the biggest challenge facing humanity?

ANU vice chancellor Ian Young thinks so. Or at least that’s what he told me recently, when we met to discuss ANU’s fossil fuel investments.

But as Kevin Rudd learned, it’s one thing to talk about the “greatest moral challenge” of our time, and quite another to show real leadership.

How far they have to go was on display last week, when ANU hosted an exclusive Crawford Australian Leadership Forum.

Sponsored by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Financial Review, 150 specially selected politicians, business people, public servants and academics discussed “geopolitical and economic issues of most immediate contemporary significance” that set “the agenda needing to be addressed by the Australian Government”.

You would think “the biggest challenge facing humanity” might get a mention. But in the wide-ranging three-day conference program, the words “climate”, “carbon” or “environment” did not appear even once.

This is the 21st century. For serious people, climate change is now part of any serious discussion on the big issues. When they’re honest, they face up to what this means: stranding fossil fuel assets.

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Start a Blog Tom Swann

Starting this blog as a place to crosspost things I write and publish elsewhere, and thoughts less baked.

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Saturday Paper: Rudd’s irregular ad spend

FOI documents reveal the Rudd government flouted its own advertising guidelines to spend millions on the controversial ‘By boat, no visa’ campaign.


I was so outraged by the Labor party’s advertising on its new ‘no-settlement’ policy, and the refusal to run it through processes they had themselves set up, that I FOIed all documents from the Department of Immigration about the process. The long process of getting those documents is available for all to see on the fantastic “Right to Know” website, a third party side which makes FOI processes easy and transparent. After receiving the documents early this year only got around to writing it all up when the issue flared up again.

It seems plain to me there is need for reform in this area. Confidence in public communications is a public good eroded by its abuse. While no process will be rort-proof, the political stakes can be raised higher still to change the calculus of these sorts of cynical calculations.

Posted in Asylum Seekers, FOI, Politics, Public Administration, Published, Reporting | Leave a comment