This paper sets out options for Australian government allocation of enabling, sub-bachelor and postgraduate courses and seeks feedback from stakeholders on, which courses should be funded and why. The government has stated its commitment to a world-class higher education system that provides appropriate support for students, and removes barriers for under-represented groups that is also sustainable for future generations. To this end, the government is seeking to ensure there is a robust rationale and framework for government investment in enabling, sub-bachelor and postgraduate places that provides capacity to respond to changing demands and priorities.
Enabling and sub-bachelor places provide greater options for students so they can study at a level suitable to their academic preparation or labour force need. This has flow-on benefits for students, who are provided with a pathway into university through a course that articulates into a bachelor level course, and for the system through greater efficiency.
There are unique characteristics of enabling programs that warrant a separate approach to allocation of places compared to sub-bachelor courses. Enrolment in enabling programs is not linked to a higher education qualification and so enabling programs are outside the TEQSA Higher Education Standards Framework. Universities receive an enabling loading in lieu of a student contribution ($3,271 per EFTSL in 2018) and unlike sub-bachelor courses universities have access to fee-paying enabling programs. For Government, students and employers therefore, the emphasis on allocation criteria should be on ensuring that enabling programs are of high academic quality and students have a high likelihood of progressing to further study at tertiary level.
For sub-bachelor places, distortion caused by demand driven bachelor level funding has meant that there has been only limited evolution of courses to meet the changing workforce requirements of the future. For example, as workforces become transformed by increasing automation and digitalisation there will be an increasing employer demand for students with Industry 4.0 competencies at both the sub-bachelor and bachelor level.
The case for public subsidies of postgraduate courses requires careful consideration. As higher education providers have the option of providing these courses on a fee-paying basis, it is important any Government investment is appropriately targeted to ensure benefits to the broader community are also achieved. However, defining parameters around ‘community benefit’ is not straightforward. Issues to consider include whether there is a genuine requirement for the increasing number of postgraduate level professional entry courses, how such arrangements interact with requirement of professional bodies and whether ‘professional development courses’ should be subsidised.