Pyne on the American model

I appeared yesterday before the Senate Committee inquiring into the government’s proposed higher education reforms. I focused on criticism of the US model being advocated by the government and the Go8, and was ready with quotes from the Go8 submission. I was unprepared, however, for the line of questioning I got from LNP members of the Committee, who denied that the government, as distinct from the Go8, was pushing the US model. My iPhone wasn’t up to the job of producing a definitive statement on the spot, but I have now located the source I wanted, in which Pyne, speaking to the Policy Exchange group in the UK says (emphasis added)

We have much to learn about universities competing for students and focussing on our students. Not least, we have much to learn about this from our friends in the United States. They have developed a diverse array of institutions encouraging prospective students to pick and choose their futures and where they are going to study, immerse themselves in enriching extra-curricular activities, and make life-long friends. Students routinely chase a range of options as to where they study, whether that’s at home or in a place known as college. Going to college is a rite of passage for American high school graduates. And it is a gift that keeps on giving.

The competitive nature of American tertiary education breeds the sort of focus on competition for students that Glyn Davis referred to. It breeds loyalty and devotion to one’s alma mater – and we know that American colleges leave us for dead when it comes to attracting philanthropic support from their graduates.

Another Australian Vice Chancellor, Professor Warren Bebbington of the University of Adelaide, wrote last week in The Times Higher Education supplement, and I quote:

higher education in Australia could be transformed into the most dynamic system in the world. It (could) have the rich variety of the US university landscape but without the crippling debts that American students suffer.
This should be the focus of a fundamental community-wide debate.

He opined that:

the debate has been largely contained thus far, and has taken place in terms incomprehensible to the average person. Even worse, some of the most influential academic voices seem intent on preventing Australians ever benefitting from what is proposed.

In the US, nearly half of all students do not go from high school to a public university of the Australian type, but instead attend teaching-only undergraduate colleges offering only Bachelor degrees. Without research programmes, these colleges do a first-class job of teaching: through small classes and an intense extra-curricular programme. Students have an unforgettable, utterly life-changing educational experience.

He continued that:

this huge array of highly-individual undergraduate colleges is one of the glories of American higher education.

Such colleges do not exist in Australia. Ours has been a highly constrained system of universities with limited scope for universities to shape their own offerings to students.

As I’ve previously pointed out, Bebbington’s claim is ludicrously wrong. He’s describing liberals arts colleges that educate perhaps 2 per cent of the college-age cohort in the US, charge around $50 000 per year and have endowments of the order of $1 million per student. The second-tier state universities, community colleges and for-profits actually attended by half or more of the student population are nothing like this.

Clearly, Pyne (like the Go8) doesn’t have a clue about the model he is pushing. This whole package should be scrapped: If the government wants to make changes, it should do some research first.

16 thoughts on “Pyne on the American model

  1. Your last line demonstrates exactly what is wrong with this government – almost nothing is decided upon using impartial research, and when research is used, it’s demonstrably bad research.

    Government by gut feeling and ideology. Oh and listening to the IPA.

    No wonder everything they try just turns to tripe.

    The scary part is that theyhave not actually faced any real crises yet. Can you imagine how Peter Dutton will fare if Ebola makes it to our shores? Johnston if there was a military flare up with Indonesia?

  2. Pyne and company clearly have some ideological catching up to do. According to contemporary American conservative wisdom, colleges are over-priced hotbeds of radical liberal indoctrination that are destroying the moral fibre of The Homeland. Why does Pyne want to import this cancer to our Great Nation?

  3. That Pyne speech was made back in April, five months ago! LNP réalité today is a couple of generations accidentally evolved from there, probably.

  4. Well, the LNP senators questioning you are clearly either fools or liars. No surprises, then.

  5. I often wonder whether LNP ministers actually believe the drivel they spout. By the same token, I wonder whether Bill Shorten believes the drivel he spouts. Actually, I think the notion of objective truth has no resonance with our current crop of professional politicians. They don’t believe or are not interested in the fact that some things can be objectively and reliably demosntrated to be true or false. For them, it is 100% about spinning and winning. Nothing else matters to them. We cannot trust our future to people who do not believe any objective truth exists at all in any area of human investigation or endeavour or who act as if it doesn’t matter.

    I remember John Ralston Saul referring to a poliician who lied every day, whether it was necessary or not, just to stay in practice. That pretty much sums it up.

  6. I’m grateful that you’re putting in the hard yards with appearances like that, at the same time as I’m pathetically grateful that I don’t have to. And congratulations on being so polite.

  7. ‘American colleges leave us for dead when it comes to attracting philanthropic support from their graduates’.

    Which American colleges is that true of? Is it true of community colleges and big State universities, or only of a minority of small elite institutions?

  8. Repubs including romney tried similar tactics at the last election.
    I wonder if the aussie left are prepared for post truth politics
    the dems in the usa had effective counter strategies. I dont see that from the Australian left.

  9. I would like to know more about what second tier institutions are like. Based on the media you would think that everyone douse go to a good school. Most of the media and much of popular culture is the upper and upper middle classes talking about themselves (and an aspirational advertising tinged version at that).

  10. What worries me most about the conservative agenda is the extension of student loans to courses at “for profit” institutions – like the one that gave Mr Abbott’s daughter a “scholarship”. In the US, these institutions pray on the gullible. We don’t need more blood suckers in Australia.

  11. @John Brookes 13

    My understanding is that it’s a bit worse than that. We already subsidize loans to those for-profit institutes through the FEE-HELP program. My understanding is that the difference between HECS-HELP is that places for HECS-HELP are also supported by a direct contribution from the Government to the University. So, we’re not extending student loans to the for-profit sector, we are extending Government subsidies to the for-profits, with nothing in return. Great deal for the for-profits, rotten deal for students and the general public.

  12. @NathanA

    I think you may be confused. The difference between HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP is not that FEE-HELP is designed for students at for-profit institutions. The difference between HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP is that HECS-HELP provides loans for students who are paying a student contribution in a program of study that is also subsidised by the Commonwealth directly, while FEE-HELP provides loans for students who are paying fees for a program of study not otherwise subsidised by the Commonwealth. FEE-HELP loans go to students who are studying with public universities. FEE-HELP loans also go to students who are studying with private but not-for-profit institutions. I don’t know whether FEE-HELP loans also go to students who are studying with for-profit institutions; I haven’t checked every provider on the list approved for FEE-HELP, so I don’t know whether any of them are for-profit institutions; but I do know that’s not a defining feature of the FEE-HELP program.

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