Government approach to efficiency can hurt unis: Houghton


Government approach to efficiency can hurt unis: Houghton

The Australian
by Bernard Lane
16 August 2017

“……..Year after year universities have made productivity gains but not of the scale that could consume $1.2 billion without some consequences,” said researcher Keith Houghton, a former business dean at the Australian National University.

With colleagues he studied the efficiency track record of universities, finding a sector-wide productivity increase of 15.2 per cent between 2007 and 2013.

However, the performance of individual universities varied widely, with some showing great efficiency and others struggling. And although all institutions benefited from system-wide changes such as better technology, only half were able to lift their institution-specific efficiency.

“The way the government has (handled this 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend) it seems to imply that every university is equally efficient or inefficient — that’s just not true,” Professor Houghton said.

“Overall, the industry has done well in terms of efficiency, it has been saving the taxpayer.

“But there are a small number of universities that, when you look year on year, they have either stagnated in terms of efficiency gains or, in one or two cases, they’ve actually going backwards.

“If I was the federal government, I would want to know which those institutions are — to try to support them to turn around that level of inefficiency.”

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.

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