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You are here: Home News TEQSA report shows students favour private degrees – The Australian

TEQSA report shows students favour private degrees – The Australian

Article as printed in The Australian Digital Edition May 17, 2017

By John Ross, Higher Education reporter, Sydney

An uneven policy playing ground has not dampened the appetite for private degrees, with a new report charting a steady shift of student share to for-profit colleges.

Undergraduate student numbers in commercial colleges rose almost one-fifth between 2013 and 2015, while their postgraduate numbers more than doubled.

But growth was muted in the nation’s universities, with a drop in the number of new domestic postgraduates triggering a 1 per cent decline in commencing student load in 2015.

The fourth in a series of reports from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency combines regulatory data with figures from the Education Department. Unlike the department’s statistical collections, which focus mainly on universities, it allows comparisons across the sector.

TEQSA chief executive Anthony McClaran said public providers were still the dominant players, with more than 90 per cent of students taught in universities. Nevertheless, student load at universities rose just 6 per cent compared with jumps of 35 per cent at for-profit colleges, 17 per cent at not-for-profits and 20 per cent at TAFEs.

Universities surrendered 1.3 percentage points of the overall student share, even though non-university providers cannot offer commonwealth-subsidised ­places and their students — unlike those at universities — cop a 25 per cent loan fee.

In absolute terms, the growth in the number of completing students at for-profits and universities was almost identical, although universities had about 19 times as many students overall.

Spiking enrolments have encouraged a raft of new entrants to the sector after a period of relative stability. Mr McClaran said another report, to be released soon, would detail more than 80 aspirant colleges, some of them under active assessment.

He said many were vocational education providers seeking to expand into higher education.

“It’s a sign of dynamism and the attractions of entering the sector,” Mr McClaran said.

However, the report reflects shrinking subject choice, with the number of course registrations declining 26 per cent between 2013 and 2015. Diplomas bucked the trend, with registrations more than doubling in 2015 — the year after the government first outlined plans to uncap the number of subsidised sub-bachelor places.

Mr McClaran said 60 per cent of the 2015 registrations covered new courses, suggesting providers were redesigning their programs in response to feedback.

The report also reflects an increasing reliance on casual staff — particularly at universities, where the number of teaching-only staff rose 20 per cent in two years, while ranks of traditional teaching and research academics went backwards.

However, casualisation remains concentrated in for-profits, where 56 per cent of academics lack tenure, compared with 23 per cent at universities. Mr McClaran said there could be good reasons for this. “If you’ve got relatively small numbers of students and you’re trying to teach a diverse range of subjects, you’re going to be looking for more flexible staffing,” he said.

Nevertheless, as one of 12 “risk indicators”, casualisation was always on TEQSA’s radar: “We want to see what kind of balance there is and what kinds of arrangements providers are making for the induction, training and support of casual staff.”

The report says online study grew 6 per cent in 2015, more than double the increase in student numbers. However, study via flexible delivery grew 37 per cent.

Copyright 2017 The Australian

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