Saturday, December 6, 2014

Economic Impact of Canberra's Universities

The report "Higher learning:Economic and social impact of the major universities in the ACT" (Deloitte Access Economics, July 2014), provides a detailed, if flawed, analysis of Canberra's students and the benefits they bring to the city. The report was commissioned by the ANU and University of Canberra and so concentrates on their students, but nevertheless brings together very useful information about the students.

According to the report, Education and Training makes up $2.3B, or 7.7%, of Canberra's GDP. This is the fourth biggest area of the local economy, after Public Administration and Safety (34%), Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (11%) and Construction (11%).

An interesting chart on page 14 of the report shows employment rates and wages for those with different qualifications (Sourced from the Productivity Commission). Not surprisingly, those with higher education qualifications have a higher chance of being employed and get paid more. But surprisingly, there is little difference between a VET Certificate and a university degree.

Table 5.2 on page 45 shows Education (Tertiary, Preschool and School Education) is the third highest category of employment for ANU graduates (10% domestic students and 15% International). However, Table A.3 (Page 53), shows that only 1% of ANU students are studying Education, compared to 10.9% at University of Canberra. This suggests ANU could expand its Education program and acquire about another 2,000 students as a result.

The report discusses possible future expansion of university's contribution to the Canberra economy. However, the report fails to mention the changes taking place in the way universities teach students. Teaching is moving from lecture based, to on-line and blended modes. I could not find the word "Internet" in the report at all. The only mention of "online" was for tools for treating mental disorders. The report points out "online programs are scalable and can be used en masse", but does not make the link between this and education generally, just for mental health treatment.

Education is changing so that students will not need to be on-campus for most of their studies. As a result, students will not need to be in the same city (or country) as their institution, most of the time. While this may sound far fetched, the newspaper and retail industries have been radically altered by the Internet. That change is now occurring in education. Canberra's universities could choose not to offer an on-line education option, in an attempt to keep the students on campus, but this is likely to instead result in students choosing a more flexible institution in another city (or country). Canberra needs to provide something for the students to do, such as a job, or working on a start-up company, to keep them in Canberra, while they are studying.

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