“We want universities to work together to meet student demand while also encouraging greater flexibility within the system for universities to specialise in enabling [courses], sub-bachelor or postgraduate offerings,” he said. “These changes will enable universities to better meet the needs of a changing workforce.”
The shift could open up at least 1500 spots and will not require any funding increase.
Postgraduate places include masters and PhD programs. Sub-bachelor courses contribute to diplomas, advanced diplomas or associate degrees. Enabling courses are designed to equip students for further university study.
The designated Commonwealth-supported places have been based on historical funding deals with universities and, in a discussion paper released late last year, the Department of Education labelled these “ad hoc decisions that may no longer be optimal”.
The change to designated places forms part of Mr Tehan’s efforts to get the most out of current spending levels on higher education before he attempts to secure funding increases for the sector as it confronts growing demand.
“The first thing I’ve got to convince colleagues is that these dollars that we’re expending are being maximised at the moment. And that’s what we have embarked on,” he said.
“And then when we have absolutely put the changes in place to do that, then I think we’ve got a very compelling story to tell as to why we need to sustainably grow the sector.”
The department’s discussion paper found that in 2016, 22 providers were over-enrolled in their designated enabling course places while 11 were under-enrolled. Some universities had over-enrolled by up to 123 per cent while others had used only 74 per cent of their allocation. In postgraduate programs, some were over-enrolled by 104 per cent while others had used 63 per cent of their allocation.
Responding to the paper, peak body Universities Australia said the system could operate in a “more efficient and more effective way” if designated places were based on demand.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.