Words by Martin Ditmann
The Australian government will remove reward funding for universities, according to its 2014-15 Budget.
It says that will save the government over $24 million a year.
The previous Labor government had ‘rewarded’ universities with more money if they took in more disadvantaged students. So universities had to lift their proportion of these disadvantaged students.
The government calculated this based on data from the universities and a complicated formula. It was looking out for students from either: low SES backgrounds or underrepresented groups.
First reward funding category: low SES
The government would give a university more money for taking in more students from low SES (socio-economic status) backgrounds.
An individual and their family being poor often puts them in a low SES situation.
Coming from an area or family background with high rates of low education and occupational statuses can also put a student in a low SES situation.
So under the previous scheme, if a university increased its proportion of low SES students, it would get more money.
Second reward funding category: other underrepresented groups
The government would also give a university more money for taking in more students from other underrepresented backgrounds.
Examples of underrepresented groups included:
- Students from regional/remote areas
- Indigenous students
- Students with a disability
- Students from a non-English speaking background
Why reward funding?
The Labor government under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard worried the amount of people from these groups coming to university was too low.
They worried being poor or having a disability, for example, makes you far less likely to go to university—for a range of reasons.
They thought reward funding could provide an incentive for universities to help fix that.
Why not reward funding?
The Abbott government says there are better solutions. They say more competitive pressure from deregulation will help encourage students from low SES backgrounds or underrepresented groups attend university. They also that there are other programs in place to help them. Notably, the government’s Higher Education Participation Programme (HEPP) funds university activities and strategies that improve course access for low SES students.
They want to reallocate reward money to other areas and to help reduce government debt.