Adelaide and South Australia unis aren’t broke, so why fix them?


Adelaide and South Australia unis aren’t broke, so why fix them?

The Australian
by Tim Dodd
27 June 2018

Key Takeaways:

  1. Australia has several large universities due to the higher education funding system, encouraging more students for increased research funding.
  2. The proposed merger of the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia should be approached with caution.
  3. Both universities have been well managed and have improved in efficiency over the years.
  4. The universities are currently doing well, so the merger might not be necessary.

Scroll down to read the full article below…

Full Article:

Australia has, by international standards, a lot of large universities. The biggest, Monash, tips the scales at 60,000 full-time equivalent students. In actual student numbers (including part-timers) the total is around 75,000.

Why do our universities get so large? In the main it’s because of the design of our higher education funding system, which forces universities to skim student funding from the government, and tuition fees paid by students, to top up their research funding. More students equals more research money. And when our universities get so large, they also become very similar.

Britain hasn’t gone down the same route. Its biggest university, Manchester, has 40,000 total enrolments, just over half the size of Monash.

It’s true that universities need to be a certain size to reach economies of scale. But get too large and the economies are lost in unwieldiness and the cost of too little variety and lack of competition.

That is one reason why the proposal to merge the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia should be viewed with a high level of caution.

Interestingly, the innovative “efficiency frontier” method of measuring university productivity developed by former Australian National University business dean Keith Houghton shows that both universities have been well managed in recent years. His method plots research efficiency against education efficiency year by year and finds they have both improved about 30 per cent from 2008 to 2016 and are close to the efficiency frontier determined by the most efficient institutions.

Houghton says present University of Queensland chief Peter Hoj deserves particular credit for his work as UniSA vice-chancellor up to 2012.

One conclusion to draw is that the proposed merger is not one of desperation, as both universities are doing well. That’s a positive because a merger forced by sagging performance is the worst.

But another conclusion is that even without merging and enduring the period of huge dislocation as they unwind overlapping courses and bring administrative systems and computer platforms together, they are improving in efficiency.

And that’s another reason to think that a merger is not necessary. The unis are doing fine.

Last week in The Australian, Australian National University economics professors Bruce Chapman and Rabee Tourky reignited a debate about a levy on international student tuition revenue (“Universities should pay levy on ‘foreign student industry’ ”, 15/11).

For several weeks, those interested in higher education have been contemplating the interim report of the Universities Accord review. The report makes many insightful and far-reaching observations. Undoubtedly it will be a turning point for important aspects of the educational offerings within our public universities.

It’s now virtually certain that the South Australian Legislative Council, the state’s upper house, will initiate a parliamentary inquiry into the planned merger of the state’s two largest universities.

Scroll to Top