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3.4 The costs of postgraduate courses - Higher Education Base Funding Review: Final Report

3.4 The costs of postgraduate courses


The Panel was asked to examine the cost of postgraduate education and whether it was higher than undergraduate education.

The original research to develop the RFM identified differences in the year of course as a determinant in costs per student (Sharma et al 1989). The costs of postgraduate coursework, and research degrees, were identified in the RFM but later-year undergraduate study was not, even though the difference in costs was noted.

The Panel considered evidence from the Deloitte Access Economic costing study and submissions to the Panel.

The costing study found that expenditure on postgraduate courses was generally higher than on undergraduate courses per EFTSL across most FOEs (Figure 3.7). The cost differential ranged from almost zero in FOE 2 (information technology) to 72 per cent in FOE 1 (natural and physical sciences). On average the study found that the cost of postgraduate courses was around 15 per cent higher than undergraduate courses in six of the seven universities providing evidence for the study. The universities attributed the difference to the higher costs associated with more senior staff that teach at postgraduate level, smaller class sizes and diseconomies of scale.

Figure 3.7: Mean teaching and scholarship costs per full-time equivalent student, by field of education

Figure can be provided upon request, please contact HEBaseFundingReview@deewr.gov.au



This picture of average higher costs was supported by several submissions to the Panel. These submissions argued that postgraduate courses are more costly with estimates for the relative difference ranging between 1.2 to 1.6 times the cost of undergraduate courses (Australian Deans of Built Environment and Design; Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools; The University of Melbourne; Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations submissions). The Australian Deans of Built Environment and Design also suggested that ‘infrastructure needs [at the postgraduate level] are almost double those of undergraduate levels per student’ (submission no. 20, p. 10).

Several submissions argued that funding levels should not distinguish between the two levels, since the cost of postgraduate study was similar to the cost of senior undergraduate years.

The University of Technology, Sydney argued that:

...cost differences for postgraduate degrees are greatly exaggerated and are primarily due to class sizes. They are similar in costs to upper year undergraduate teaching in terms of staffing, infrastructure needs and student support (submission no. 62, p. 15).

The University of New South Wales argued that it was the ‘aspirations and mission of each institution’ that determined costs and there was no generic difference (submission no. 134, p. 6).

The Panel notes that class sizes vary at the postgraduate level; some are comparable to specialised undergraduate courses, while others may remain small. Further, the issue of scale is not unique to postgraduate courses; it also affects low-volume courses, regional delivery and later years of undergraduate courses.

One submission provided confidential cost summaries, indicating postgraduate courses cost approximately the same as undergraduate courses in the same discipline. In its submission to the Panel, Victoria University referred to internal research indicating the costs of teaching business degrees did not vary between the undergraduate or postgraduate level (submission no. 136, p. 12). Some submissions asserted that in professional entry courses, the skills and teaching requirements for professional entry do not vary whether taught at the postgraduate or undergraduate level, so there should be no additional cost, regardless of the level of qualification:

While recognising that a professional entry postgraduate coursework program will be delivered to a more advanced cohort and be different in structure and intensity, the nature of the discipline and skills taught will be generally equivalent to those covered by an undergraduate program that delivers the same professional accreditation (The University of Queensland, submission no. 155, p. 2).

With regard to music, [the National Council of Tertiary Music Schools] considers that there is, on average, no material difference in the cost of delivering postgraduate coursework degrees versus undergraduate degrees (submission no. 137, p. 9).

Several submissions noted the expansion of postgraduate courses over time and suggested that there was evidence of these being ‘rebadged’ undergraduate courses:

Most postgraduate teaching is currently funded fully by student fees giving a higher funding level per unit than undergraduate with government funding. To justify this higher level of fees universities have an incentive to offer a different teaching approach so as to be seen to offer value for the additional money (Victoria University, submission no. 136, p. 12).

The question of the appropriate level of course delivery is an issue for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

3.4.1 Funding for postgraduate courses


The Panel is concerned that the increasing expectation that postgraduate qualifications are necessary to enter a profession is extending the time and therefore the cost of entry-level professional credentials, for both students and the taxpayer. While this is consistent with global trends, the Panel found no compelling evidence of benefits to society or individuals from lengthening the time required to obtain an entry-level professional qualification. The Panel agrees with the view presented in many submissions that any cost differentials in the delivery of postgraduate education compared to undergraduate education are based on institutional choice and should not be supported by base funding. The Panel notes that if a university wishes to offer a high-cost postgraduate course then it has the choice to offer it as a full fee–paying course, or to partially fund it from general university revenue. Certainly there did appear to be a greater trend towards postgraduate delivery in those institutions with access to a more diverse range of private sources of revenue.

Additionally, the Panel is concerned that providing a higher funding rate for approved courses offered at the postgraduate level would create incentives for universities to turn undergraduate courses into postgraduate courses without any obvious benefit to students or the community. Some submissions have pointed out that these incentives already exist, with institutions restructuring courses in response to the decision to abolish full-fee places at the undergraduate level and the need for institutions to diversify their revenue sources:

Higher postgraduate funding, particularly in the absence of clear evidence that there is a general significant cost differential, will create an incentive for universities to move courses from undergraduate to postgraduate simply to take advantage of the funding differential (University of Technology, Sydney, submission no. 62, p. 16).

The Panel believes that maintaining the same level of funding for undergraduate and approved postgraduate courses ensures institutions make decisions about course offerings based on demand, academic standards, professional accreditation and competiveness, rather than funding levels alone. The Panel therefore recommends that where the Government allocates Commonwealth supported places to postgraduate coursework courses that they should be funded at the same rate as undergraduate courses.
2010-07-19 18:44 Читать похожую статью
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