Sunday, March 19, 2023

Free University Lectures for All Australian Productivity Commission Report

Free broadcast lectures were proposed in the novel "And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks" by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs (1945). This idea has been resurrected, bizarrely, by the Australian Productivity Commission in its report "Advancing Prosperity" (17 March 2023), with recommendations (p. 6), "... requiring universities to provide all lectures online and for free ...". The Commission's reasoning is that "This would improve the transparency of teaching quality and provide an incentive to invest in, and improve, teaching performance" (Volume 1, P. 29). If this recommendation had been made last century, it would have had some merit. I gave up giving lectures in 2008, and moved my teaching online. Few followed this approach at the time. But in 2023, after three years of online learning brought about by a pandemic, it is difficult to comprehend how the commission could understand so little about how university education is now provided.

The Commission does make some relevant points about education:

"Digital communications can provide scale (say in university education) allowing for expansion of services at low marginal cost." (Volume 1, Page 21).

"Reforming university funding arrangements would facilitate expanded access for Australians to tertiary qualifications. It would also facilitate more competition and address the unintended consequences that result from university efforts to manage the course mix — a response to the poor incentives embedded in the current funding model." (Volume 1, Page 29).

"Notwithstanding the strong growth of higher education, VET remains the largest provider of formal post-school training, serving more than twice the number of university students. Given this, overcoming systemic flaws in VET design is important." (Volume 1, Page 30).

"Loan fee arrangements should also be equalised across the tertiary sector, levied on all students regardless of type (that is, extended from fee-for-service VET students and non-university higher education students to include subsidised VET students and university students). The loan fee rate should also be lowered reflecting application to a broader base of students." (Volume 1, Page 88).

One obvious way to increase the quality of university education, by requiring those teaching at universities to be qualified to teach, appears to have been missed by the commission.

The commission appears to be in the business of writing large, infrequent reports which make the same recommendations which were ignored previously. This doesn't appear very productive, if measured by the improvements made as a result of the reports. The commission might want to send their staff for some training in how to formulate and present recommendations in a way they will be accepted. This is a skill I help university students with.

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