Long-term Effects of Job-ready Graduates Package Still Uncertain26 April 2021
The Job-ready Graduate Package is expected to significantly reshape higher education pathways and impact many students across the country. However, it is anticipated that the impacts of the legislation, which passed in October 2020, will not be fully known for several years.
The package is set to see certain courses, primarily in the fields of Science, Teaching, and Nursing, have their costs cut. In contrast, other courses, primarily in the Arts, Commerce, and Law faculties, will see the cost of their degrees increase.
When the legislation was originally announced, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan claimed that the changes in funding would see more students with “job-ready skills”. The veracity of this statement has been extensively challenged.
While the extent of these effects on student course enrolments are not fully understood, some possible inferences may be drawn from the trends present over the past few years. The University is yet to release its enrolment numbers for 2020 as of the time of publication, and adopted a different methodology for counting student numbers in 2019. This change in methodology means that comparisons with previous years are not as statistically significant. However, there are still some patterns that may be observed from previous annual reports.
The period of five years leading up to 2018 already saw shifts in course enrolment numbers. Between 2014 and 2018, total enrolments at the University increased 20 per cent. However, the increases were not consistent between faculties. The Bachelor of Arts saw a modest 13 per cent increase over the period, while the Bachelor of Science increased exponentially, until falling greatly in 2018. The most significant increases were a 60 per cent jump for Engineering students, and a 50 per cent increase in the Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences faculty. Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences increased 350 per cent over the same period.
A University spokesperson confirmed that some of these trends have continued.
“The Bachelor of Agriculture continues to be a strong choice and has seen a 13 per cent increase in applications.”
As of right now, there have been negligible impacts on enrolments for 2021.
“The Bachelor of Arts remains the most popular course for high school leavers in 2021. The overall total is lower than in previous years due to a decrease in interstate applications,” a university spokesperson told Farrago.
The Faculty of Arts Deputy Dean, Professor Sarah Maddison, confirmed this.
“Commencing domestic student load in the Bachelor of Arts appears to be almost on par with figures from this time last year,” Maddison said.
“…the Bachelor of Arts remains very popular and at this point there is no obvious impact from the Job-ready Graduates legislation on domestic applicants.”
Professor Maddison does not anticipate any impacts will be felt immediately.
“It’s possible we’ll start seeing the real impact in two to three years and when the current grandfathering arrangements end,” Maddison said.
“…this may very well be because Year 12 students had already selected a particular path of study and did not have time to make other choices.”
The Director of the Bachelor of Science, Associate Professor Deborah King, agreed that any changes may take a while to be distinguishable.
“From our UoM perspective I can’t discern any real change to our domestic numbers. This is similar to other Go8’s [Group of 8 Universities] as far as I understand.”
“Looking forward though, an indicator that Job Ready is impacted on [sic] enrolment patterns would manifest in Year 11 and 12 subject choices before we saw the flow on effects. So I think it will take at least two years to be able to say for sure if there has been a change,” King said.
Some academics are particularly concerned that the impacts on enrolment will be felt more in relation to the demography of student cohorts, rather than the numbers thereof.
Professor Maddison identified this as a key concern.
“In narrowing the pool of Humanities and Social Sciences students to those who are able to cope with the future debt, important and marginalised voices will be missing in classrooms.”
“If this is the case, and the study of HASS becomes socially elitist, this will be incredibly detrimental for our society.”
This belief is shared by Dr Wendy Haslem, a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Management.
“HASS subjects attract a significantly higher student contribution and correspondingly lower government contribution. We feel that this will disproportionately impact women students and our lower SES students. That concerns us deeply.”
Various departments at the University have been considering mechanisms to mitigate the impacts on students over the next series of years. A number of academics have also publicly criticised the government’s policy.
It will likely be many years before the full impact of the new legislation is felt. However, the possibility that certain degrees will become less accessible to marginalised groups is itself concerning, and cause for attention.