The Role of Government Policy in Determining the Structure of Higher Education in Australia

Stephenson, Judith Anne (1991) The Role of Government Policy in Determining the Structure of Higher Education in Australia The University of Queensland:

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Author Stephenson, Judith Anne
Title of report The Role of Government Policy in Determining the Structure of Higher Education in Australia
Formatted title


Publication date 1991-01-01
Place of publication The University of Queensland
Total pages 126
Language eng
Subjects 1503 Business and Management
Formatted abstract
When the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Mr Dawkins, issued Higher Education: A Policy Statement [The White Paper] in July 1988, he outlined the Commonwealth Government's strategy for the long-term development of Australia's higher education system. The Government's aim was to increase participation and graduation rates substantially by the year 2000. The strategies adopted to achieve these objectives have been described as encompassing 'the most drastic changes to arrangements for higher education that have occurred in the 140 years since the foundation of Australia's first university'.

In this paper I have examined by way of a review of the literature and interviews, the evolution of the structure of higher education in Australia in light of the extent of the effect of Government policy, and in particular that of the Federal Government, in order to account for the ability of Mr Dawkins to transform the structure of the tertiary education sector, given that constitutional power with respect to education remains vested in the States.

The first Universities were established under State Acts of Parliament. The States provided initial establishment grants and recurrent costs were met from State grants and revenue from fees. However, following the transfer of the income tax power to the Commonwealth as a wartime emergency and its subsequent retention, the States found themselves unable to support the universities to the extent required to meet the dramatic increase in demand following the Second World War arising from returned service personnel, increased 17-19 population and immigration as well as rising participation rates.

Initial Commonwealth commitment to the universities in the postwar period arose from the need to reimburse them for the teaching given to returning service personnel. This was accomplished by way of an amendment to Section XXIIIA of the Constitution, giving the Commonwealth power to legislate to make provision for 'benefits to students'.

In the years following the war, Government policy was formulated in response to the recommendations of Committees of Inquiry, notably the Mills and Murray Committees by which the Commonwealth adopted the principle of matching State and Commonwealth grants to the universities. The adoption of the recommendations of the Mills Committee was especially significant in that for the first time the Commonwealth Government accepted a financial commitment to the universities, but with no accompanying measures of control or interference in the affairs of the institutions. Following the recommendations of the Martin Committee in 1965, the Commonwealth provided funding for a binary system of higher education, ie for universities and colleges of advanced education in order to broaden access to higher education. In 1974, the Commonwealth Government assumed full responsibility for the funding of tertiary institutions.

In the thirty years to 1981, Commonwealth Government funding to tertiary education had increased from $2.9M to $1,665M. During that time, the AVC and CTEC had been committed to the balanced development of higher education and had recommended ranges of student load and courses which would attract Federal funding. Some institutions had thus been prevented from expanding into the prestigious and expensive courses such as medicine and veterinary science. However, in 1981 the higher education sector was to feel the effects of the recommendations of the Review of Commonwealth Functions which have been described in the following terms: 'there have been no comparable examples of such extensive, dramatic and sudden cut-backs in government functions'.

It was this increasing concern of Government to control escalating costs coupled with a call for greater accountability that culminated in the Review of the efficiency and effectiveness in Higher Education. Many of the issues dealt with by the Review were incorporated into the Green Paper.

The Labor Government had become increasingly committed to linking education and skill training to broad economic objectives and to achieve their objectives in a range of policy areas, were determined to increase both participation and graduation rates by the turn of the century. These objectives were to be achieved through the strategies outlined in the White Paper.

The major vehicle for this transformation of the sector was to be the Unified National System. The distinctions between universities and colleges in terms of awards, courses and staff and the concomitant level of operating grants and capital funds were to disappear with the abolition of the binary system. In order to join the Unified National System, institutions were required to meet criteria in regard to size in terms of EFTSU and as well accept a commitment to the Government's strategies in areas such as research activities, staff development, size of council. Those institutions with less than 2,000 EFTSU as well as contiguous institutions were required to amalgamate or consolidate to meet the Commonwealth's criteria for membership. All institutions accepted the invitation to join the UNS as continued recurrent funding was dependent upon membership.

In 1970 Philp had described the situation as 'the States pay the piper, the Commonwealth calls the tune and the universities dance to it'. In 1990, it is the Commonwealth who pays the piper and calls the tune and the universities must dance to it if they wish to continue to receive Commonwealth funding which amounts to 85% of their total income.

Given the increasing demand for higher education and the concomitant escalating costs to the Commonwealth, I believe that within the next decade, the Commonwealth Government will be either unwilling or unable or both to continue to fund the higher education sector at the required level. It will not be possible to continue to provide virtually free and universal access to higher education; some harsh decisions will need to be made regarding the level of commitment and investment students are willing to make in their own future.

However, the one overriding necessity for the higher education section in the near future, is in fact a period of calm to follow the turmoil created by the White Paper initiatives. Tertiary institutions need neither more ambitious plans for further changes from the Government, nor the prospect of a dismantling of the UNS if a change of government occurs. Whatever opinions or judgements are made concerning the efficacy of the characteristics of the UNS, time is needed for institutions to become accustomed to their new roles and profiles so that the positive advantages of the system can become apparent before any further drastic action is taken to either amend the current requirements of the UNS or embark on even more far-reaching initiatives.
When the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Mr Dawkins, issued Higher Education: A Policy Statement [The White Paper] in July 1988, he outlined the Commonwealth Government's strategy for the long-term development of Australia's higher education system. The Government's aim was to increase participation and graduation rates substantially by the year 2000. The strategies adopted to achieve these objectives have been described as encompassing 'the most drastic changes to arrangements for higher education that have occurred in the 140 years since the foundation of Australia's first university'.

In this paper I have examined by way of a review of the literature and interviews, the evolution of the structure of higher education in Australia in light of the extent of the effect of Government policy, and in particular that of the Federal Government, in order to account for the ability of Mr Dawkins to transform the structure of the tertiary education sector, given that constitutional power with respect to education remains vested in the States.

The first Universities were established under State Acts of Parliament. The States provided initial establishment grants and recurrent costs were met from State grants and revenue from fees. However, following the transfer of the income tax power to the Commonwealth as a wartime emergency and its subsequent retention, the States found themselves unable to support the universities to the extent required to meet the dramatic increase in demand following the Second World War arising from returned service personnel, increased 17-19 population and immigration as well as rising participation rates.

Initial Commonwealth commitment to the universities in the postwar period arose from the need to reimburse them for the teaching given to returning service personnel. This was accomplished by way of an amendment to Section XXIIIA of the Constitution, giving the Commonwealth power to legislate to make provision for 'benefits to students'.

In the years following the war, Government policy was formulated in response to the recommendations of Committees of Inquiry, notably the Mills and Murray Committees by which the Commonwealth adopted the principle of matching State and Commonwealth grants to the universities. The adoption of the recommendations of the Mills Committee was especially significant in that for the first time the Commonwealth Government accepted a financial commitment to the universities, but with no accompanying measures of control or interference in the affairs of the institutions. Following the recommendations of the Martin Committee in 1965, the Commonwealth provided funding for a binary system of higher education, ie for universities and colleges of advanced education in order to broaden access to higher education. In 1974, the Commonwealth Government assumed full responsibility for the funding of tertiary institutions.

In the thirty years to 1981, Commonwealth Government funding to tertiary education had increased from $2.9M to $1,665M. During that time, the AVC and CTEC had been committed to the balanced development of higher education and had recommended ranges of student load and courses which would attract Federal funding. Some institutions had thus been prevented from expanding into the prestigious and expensive courses such as medicine and veterinary science. However, in 1981 the higher education sector was to feel the effects of the recommendations of the Review of Commonwealth Functions which have been described in the following terms: 'there have been no comparable examples of such extensive, dramatic and sudden cut-backs in government functions'.

It was this increasing concern of Government to control escalating costs coupled with a call for greater accountability that culminated in the Review of the efficiency and effectiveness in Higher Education. Many of the issues dealt with by the Review were incorporated into the Green Paper.

The Labor Government had become increasingly committed to linking education and skill training to broad economic objectives and to achieve their objectives in a range of policy areas, were determined to increase both participation and graduation rates by the turn of the century. These objectives were to be achieved through the strategies outlined in the White Paper.

The major vehicle for this transformation of the sector was to be the Unified National System. The distinctions between universities and colleges in terms of awards, courses and staff and the concomitant level of operating grants and capital funds were to disappear with the abolition of the binary system. In order to join the Unified National System, institutions were required to meet criteria in regard to size in terms of EFTSU and as well accept a commitment to the Government's strategies in areas such as research activities, staff development, size of council. Those institutions with less than 2,000 EFTSU as well as contiguous institutions were required to amalgamate or consolidate to meet the Commonwealth's criteria for membership. All institutions accepted the invitation to join the UNS as continued recurrent funding was dependent upon membership.

In 1970 Philp had described the situation as 'the States pay the piper, the Commonwealth calls the tune and the universities dance to it'. In 1990, it is the Commonwealth who pays the piper and calls the tune and the universities must dance to it if they wish to continue to receive Commonwealth funding which amounts to 85% of their total income.

Given the increasing demand for higher education and the concomitant escalating costs to the Commonwealth, I believe that within the next decade, the Commonwealth Government will be either unwilling or unable or both to continue to fund the higher education sector at the required level. It will not be possible to continue to provide virtually free and universal access to higher education; some harsh decisions will need to be made regarding the level of commitment and investment students are willing to make in their own future.

However, the one overriding necessity for the higher education section in the near future, is in fact a period of calm to follow the turmoil created by the White Paper initiatives. Tertiary institutions need neither more ambitious plans for further changes from the Government, nor the prospect of a dismantling of the UNS if a change of government occurs. Whatever opinions or judgements are made concerning the efficacy of the characteristics of the UNS, time is needed for institutions to become accustomed to their new roles and profiles so that the positive advantages of the system can become apparent before any further drastic action is taken to either amend the current requirements of the UNS or embark on even more far-reaching initiatives.


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Created: Fri, 24 Dec 2010, 02:52:18 EST by Mr Yun Xiao on behalf of The University of Queensland Library