"Financing of Higher Education"
Address to the University Presidents' Forum by the Delegate from Queensland University
Thank you. Well, similar to perhaps everyone else here, I appreciate the invitation from GDUFS(Guangdong University of Foreign Studies) to those of us who have registered to speak. I appreciate. That's a privilege. And I, of course, congratulate GDUFS on their achievements over the last 40 years. One of the things, well, I'm very happy to be speaking here. It is a bit of challenge for me to be speaking the eleventh. It is the first time that I've spoken at so far down the betting order. And I can only have some sympathy for Party Secretary Yang Qifeng following me because it's very hard to add information or add insight to the many insightful and constructive comments made by other speakers so far. But I'll try.
What I'd like very briefly to do is just to try and make some general comments and some, if you don't mind, some opinions on where educational policy might go in a lot of countries. You know, I can't comment on Germany.
First of all, a lot of governments, particularly, I suppose, almost all of the Western democracies, but others as well, are facing a general problem that people have spoken about here. That is, how do you fund a public education system, or effectively a public education system? You know, in the face of phenomenal growth in participation rates putting incredible pressure on public funding budgets, but at the same time ensure access by, I guess, socio-economically diversified groups. That is a tough one.
In my opinion there is a trend that governments have really given up on this despite the fact that we would like governments to bear the responsibilities of shouldering the debt for undergraduates and, I guess, postgraduates. It seems, in my opinion, to be politically infeasible. So really where do governments go?
I do expect that in the longer term an efficient way of going is to provide students with some fee help but nevertheless charge fees. The fees would have to be substantial to ensure socio-economic diversity. Targeted scholarships seem to be the way to go. People could correct me here. But I've always been very, I guess, envious of some of the American private universities that charge exorbitantly high fees and yet when you walk across a campus they have more socio-economic diversity than the Australian universities that have traditionally not charged fees until recently.
It's not the way I wish things should be. I just think it's the way that it is going to go. It's not an ideal circumstance to the ethics and values of many of us. However, I think it is inevitable. I also wish the Rhine water was beer. But it is not.
Given that governments are going to nevertheless try to fund some of tertiary education, there are a lot of very big questions, I think public policies, that they need to address, perhaps advice to some extent by the industry. And that's to what extent should there be cross subsidies between disciplines.
I guess to the share-ground of many of us here, governments who are going this way tend to be less inclined to fund business programs in particular and also law programs. They are much more inclined to fund agriculture, bio-technology and so forth. So if you are in the business areas, at least in Australia, I'm sure it's the same and elsewhere as well. There is very little effective net government funding of business programs.
Exactly how should governments help with student fees, which I again with respect feel inevitable…how should they help with student fees with financing…again I do think that what has seemed to be politically acceptable and does seem to have worked reasonably well in Australia is the HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) system, whereby the students are given what's effectively an interest-free loan that they pay back through the tax system when they reach a certain amount of income, in fact 33,000 Australian dollars per year. Then they start paying it back through the tax system.
Nevertheless, the overall question is really how universities ensure adequate socio-economical diversity on campus. Well again I think we've really got to look at scholarships. There's got to be a change in the culture of many countries, (I appreciate that some parts of US do this very well) whereby there's got be a lot of royalty of the institutions by their alumni. The alumni have got tosort of feel that they're going to pay back to their institutions by helping to provide scholarships for students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, perhaps from rural areas, perhaps subject to income test or indigenous people and so forth. And that is a necessity.
Well I'll just close on a couple of difficulties that we are having in respect of relationships with China. And I should perhaps say challenges rather than difficulties. Chinese students have been very much a strong growth market to Australia. In my own faculty, about five years ago, we had about five mainland Chinese in our programs. We now have five hundred. It's growing at a very substantial rate. That has delighted us. But it is coming to the point where we are wondering whether we should look at the extent to which these students are getting as rich an experience as they should. So perhaps we need look at things unfortunately such as cutting numbers from particular countries such as mainland China because we are finding the classes are almost full of Chinese. It might be a good thing. But I think it's disappointing. I suspect some Chinese students who are going for a richer experience in another country and find what are really there. Their classes, like them, are full of Chinese. I went to Liverpool in England as an international student for a period in the 70s doing a master's degree and never met another Australian, which I think was a good thing. Well, I'm sure opinions differ on this.
Another thing, very quickly, that has happening to us with respect to China is that the construction cost is going up in Australia. You would think what that could to do with China. But in actual fact that, it's not of direct interest to people here but because of the demand of China for steel and other commodities, the construction cost is going up in the universities as well as in the rest of the economy. We had about the same building that we put up two years ago. Now it costs 60 percent more. And that is because of the economic boom that China is experiencing.
I think I'll leave it there. Again I appreciate the invitation and I'm particularly appreciative of our new relationship with GDUFS in the way that seems to be working so well in such early days.