Elite Australian Universities Argue for Moderating Enrollment Growth

June 16, 2016

A group of Australian research universities known as the Group of Eight issued a policy paper on Wednesday calling for the government to “moderate growth in degree level participation, while opening up a wider range of opportunities, including at the subdegree level in both vocational and higher education.”

The paper argues that the shift to a “demand-driven” funding system, which removed caps on the number of domestic undergraduates universities could enroll, has been successful in substantially increasing higher education participation. However, the paper argues that the demand-driven system “is rapidly becoming financially unsustainable” and has fallen short in delivering on equity goals, with most of the growth in participation involving students from middle and high socioeconomic backgrounds. The proportion of undergraduate domestic students coming from low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds increased by just 1.5 percent between 2009 and 2014.

The paper calls for targeted support for low-income and indigenous students to attend university and for increased government investments in research, among other recommendations.

Some vice chancellors from outside the elite eight research universities slammed the proposals as self-interested in reports in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. Greg Craven, vice chancellor of Australian Catholic University, is quoted in The Australian describing the Group of Eight’s position as “crapulous”: “Their position is that they want more money in the system but that money should go to them,” he said.

The Regional Universities Network also issued a statement strongly supporting keeping the demand-driven funding system in place. “Many more low-SES and regional students have attended university because caps on places have been removed,” the group's chair, Jan Thomas, said. “Proportionally, there has been a 1.5 percent increase in the participation by low-SES students overall, which is progress. More than four to five years is needed to solve the problem.”

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