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Letter from Australia: Three more years

Julie Hare sets out what the surprise election result means for higher education.
This article is more than 4 years old

Julie is Wonkhe's Associate Editor in Australia.

Ahead of an election, all government departments and agencies prepare what’s called a blue book for the incoming government. Two versions are made: one if the incumbent government is returned and a second if the opposition is triumphant.

Given what happened in Australia on Saturday night, one can only assume that a lot of public servants spent their Sunday at work adding a bit of spit and polish to the version that they had predicted wouldn’t be needed – the one for a return of the Morrison government.

Because no one saw the result coming – not the pollsters, not the pundits, not the commentators or the bloke with a schooner of Coopers Pale Ale at the pub. Even Burt the psychic crocodile got it wrong.

The problem with the result is that Scott Morrison essentially went to the election with two policies: to introduce personal income tax cuts, including for the highest earners, and to bring the budget back to surplus.

What that means for the post-secondary education sector is up for grabs. Let’s just say vision and bravery haven’t been hallmarks of the Morrison government to date and there is no reason to assume that is about to change.

What we know

In fact, there are a couple of education-related policies of note. First, there was a promise of budget promise of $525 million for the VET sector following an eleventh-hour review by former NZ politician Steven Joyce at the end of last year.

The policy aims to increase the number of apprenticeships to 80,000 by doubling incentive payments for employers to $8000 and giving another $2000 to the apprentice.

Most of the money for the money has been diverted from the failed skilled workers fund. That particular piece of policy genius – which originally had the wildly ambitious aim of creating 150,000 apprenticeships over four years – was originally intended to be funded by a levy on foreign worker visas.

The problem was that the government was cracking down on that particular visa at the exact same time – so funding for the new scheme was concurrently being diminished by an anti-immigration stance. Like doh! There was also a very valid question of whether there were 150,000 people – even 80,000 – who wanted to take up apprenticeships. After all, commencements have been in decline for a number of years now. In fact, in 2018 commencements were at their lowest level since 1996.

For higher education, the demand driven system has been capped at 2017 levels until 2020, with any growth afterward to be linked to demographics. That’s predicted to be around 1%. Funding increases will be contingent on as-yet-unspecified performance criteria. And if the likes of graduate employment and graduate salaries are included, then universities are likely to be stuffed. After all, these things are contingent on the health of the economy and all the smoke signals are pointing to a softening – possibly even worse – of the economy in coming months.

With this in mind, and with the Morrison focus on a budget surplus, by my reckoning the demand driven system will be dead and buried before it gets under way again. Bye bye Bradley.

In the meantime, R&D as a percentage of R&D is at a record low – 1.88% and that is predicted to tank further. There are no policies around R&D – this is a government that reckons a $3.5bn carbon abatement program is enough to satisfy our global obligations around climate change. It’s dire. Very dire.

As a very sombre Labor senator Penny Wong told an ABC panel on Saturday night: “It’s hard to imagine a future without any policy agenda.”

Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, could only mildly – and not convincingly – retort: “It’s not the end of reform for all time.”

No. But probably for the next three years.

2 responses to “Letter from Australia: Three more years

  1. Thanx for this.

    A couple of editorials:

    ‘First, there was a promise of budget promise of $525 million for the VET sector . . .’

    ‘Most of the money for the money has been diverted from the failed skilled workers fund.’

  2. The Sydney Morning Herald claims that Bela Stantic predicted the result using social media informatics that also predicted the election of Donald Trum and the UK Leave vote. A lot of the UK media picked up on this story as well.

    That said, the probability of 3 correct coin tosses is 1 in 8 and so Prof Stantic may not be that far ahead of the psychic croc.

    Interesting that the exit poll was wrong – but the election was very close so there was a margin of error. More worrying were all the incorrect opinion polls, discussed here:

    Kevin Bonham (independent analyst): ‘suggests that polling companies might have engaged in statistical smoothing, or herding, of the figures because they want to avoid being embarrassed by having a different result to others.’

    Not known if the pollsters bet on the election – the bookies lost over 5 million Aussie dollars!

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