Australia's universities: from elite institutions to degree factories?

2 Jul 2013

Australia's position on Asia's doorstep and its ability to offer quality, English-speaking university courses to the region has made it a major player in the global education market. Rear Vision looks at the astonishing growth of Australia’s universities, and why students are being asked to carry more debt while revenue from foreign students seems to be increasing.

Australia's universities will take a financial hit to fund the Gonski reforms, and yesterday the new federal education minister Kim Carr admitted that targets to grow university enrolments may have to be scrapped.

There is a limit to everything, and some may now be asking – have our universities, which have expanded rapidly for the last few decades, grown too large?

Some 40 per cent of high school graduates now expect to study a tertiary degree, but at the time of federation when Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmania’s universities had already been established, Australia's population was about 4 million and there were about 2,500 uni students.

Andrew Norton, program director of higher education at the Grattan Institute, says that university growth remained slow until the end of WWII when the federal government, flush with revenue after wrestling income tax receipts off the states during the war, began a transformation of Australia’s universities which had been until then the preserve of a small, largely male student population.

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