Federal Politics

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Ditch uni quotas for poor students, Abbott government told

The federal government should abandon its drive for 40 per cent of all young Australians to have a degree by 2025, an Abbott government review into university funding recommends.

The review, which was released on Sunday, also calls for the government to ditch a target for 20 per cent of university students to come from low-socio economic (SES) backgrounds by 2020. Both targets were introduced by Labor following a major review into the university system by higher education administrator Denise Bradley in 2008.

The review into the "demand-driven" university funding system, by education consultant Andrew Norton and former Liberal education minister David Kemp, also calls for the removal of caps on TAFE diploma courses and associate degrees.

In 2012, the Gillard government ditched the “supply-driven” funding system - in which the government imposed limits on undergraduate student numbers - in favour of a system that allows universities to determine how many places they offer and in which discipline. This has led to a surge in university enrolments, with an increase in 100,000 university students since 2009.

Despite concerns this rapid growth would lead to a drop in standards, the Kemp-Norton review concludes that "there is no persuasive case for returning to the ‘capped’ system, and that the demand driven system should be retained, expanded and improved”.

The review also call for demand-driven funding to be introduced for a limited number of postgraduate courses.


While arguing that increasing the number of students with a degree is a worthy goal, the review says official targets for higher-education attainment risk distorting the sector and should be abandoned. The Department of Education expects the goal of 40 per cent of 25-34 year olds achieving at least bachelor-level education will be reached before 2025.

"The important aspect of the demand-driven system is that it can adapt to individual needs, not that it can help meet arbitrary centrally determined targets,” Mr Kemp and Mr Norton write.

"It would be a poor outcome if students were recruited because a university wanted to meet its low-SES target rather than because admission served the long-term interests of the applicant.”

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the government was preparing its response to the report. New policies based on the report's findings are expected to be announced in the May budget.

Mr Pyne said last year that he is "not obsessed with percentage quotas” and that his focus was on the quality of university courses.