‘In 2011, the last year for which full international data is available, Australia’s public funding of universities ranked thirty-third out of the thirty-four OECD member countries. Governments across the OECD spent an average of 1.1 per cent of GDP on universities; Australia devoted just 0.7 per cent. Six countries – including Canada, at 1.6 per cent – spent at least double Australia’s proportion of national income. Finland, at 1.9 per cent, tops the list.
‘The Pyne proposals would make the share of tertiary funding derived from private sources even greater. At the moment, private funding constitutes 0.9 per cent of GDP in Australia, which is almost double the OECD average of 0.5 per cent and puts us among the most privatised group. The relationship between income inequality and private share of university funding is striking, with relatively equitable countries, such as the Nordic countries, having the lowest, while several of those near the top of the list (Chile, Colombia, the United States) tend towards greater inequality.
‘It was not always thus. In 1975, at the end of the Whitlam government, Australian public spending on universities peaked at 1.5 per cent of GDP. Whitlam, whose government had made university education free, later said that this was the achievement for which he received the most expressions of personal and parental gratitude in the years after he left office. Under his Liberal predecessors, around 70 per cent of students had Commonwealth Scholarships, effectively making their tuition free. In The Whitlam Government, he cites survey data from the mid 1970s showing that, without his government’s changes, 20 per cent of university students and 25 per cent of college students would have been forced either to defer their enrolment or not enrol at all. Both the number of university students and, even more dramatically, the number of college students (in the binary tertiary sector of that time) increased during his government.’