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From public to private benefit: The shifting rationales for setting student contributions

Version 2 2022-10-05, 04:26
Version 1 2022-10-05, 04:05
journal contribution
posted on 2022-10-05, 04:26 authored by Andrew Norton


This paper summarises the evolution of student contributions in Australia since 1989, exploring system redesigns that commenced in 1997, 2005 and 2021. Public and private benefits are recurring themes in setting student contributions, both as high-level justifications for government policy and in pricing specific disciplines. Professor Andrew Norton evaluates five different rationales used by successive Australian governments to satisfy competing policy and political considerations: course costs, private benefits, public benefits, increasing resources per student place, and incentivising course choices.

Professor Norton argues that despite using student contributions to guide  course choices being central to current funding policy it is never likely to be effective. Student contributions do, however, have practical consequences that seem to be given little consideration by the government. These include how long it takes to repay student debt, how much of that debt the government will eventually write off, and university incentives to enrol students. As the new government reviews the Job-ready Graduates policy, the paper provides a useful basis for discussion, offering lessons from history in what works and what does not, and guiding policymakers towards student contribution systems that minimise problems for students, government and universities.


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