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(UPDATED: Good stuff in the comments. – pw)

Here’s a long-weekend assignment for the cruelly overworked knowledge-economy branch of the Inkless Irregulars: I’d appreciate a comparison between this ambitious announcement from Australia and similar efforts in Canada over the past decade.

Australia Nearly Doubles Endowment for University Infrastructure

Australian universities received a windfall this week when the government announced that it would nearly double the higher-education infrastructure endowment, to $11-billion (Australian), the newspaper The Australian reported. The amount equals about $10.5-billion (U.S.)

The increase fulfilled a campaign promise by Australia’s recently-elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, to invest substantially in education. In making the announcement, Education Minister Julia Gillard said the fund was intended to help universities rebuild their campus infrastructure after 11 years “government neglect” under the previous prime minister.

Academics have in the past complained that cutbacks in education spending were hurting Australia’s competitiveness.

The government also announced several other changes that it hopes will encourage science research. New students entering math and science programs will pay practically no tuition. A thousand mid-career Australian and international researchers will be awarded fellowships. And the number of Commonwealth scholarships for undergraduates will double, to 88,000, over the next four years.

Carolyn Allport, president of the National Tertiary Education Union, said the amount allocated for higher education exceeded her expectations.

“The education revolution has started,” she said.

Poignant final sentence, that.

Also: At any point over the next several months, if any researcher in any field develops concrete plans to leave Canada for Australia because of these policy changes, I’d love to hear from you.


 

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  1. I suppose the attractiveness of this depends on what falls under “infrastructure”.

    Most of the money poured into Ontario universities in the last decade was largely for infrastructure in the “SuperBuild” project, i.e. new buildings/residences to accommodate the “double cohort.” It resulted in a lot of expanded campuses, but no appreciable improvement in the quality of our universities…

    And I hear from reliable sources (i.e. Australians) that they are significantly behind us in many respects, including academic rigor, the design of graduate-level programs, etc. That said, they seem to be doing fine compared to us in some world rankings: http://www.topuniversities.com/worlduniversityrankings/results/2007/overall_rankings/top_100_universities/

  2. Mr. Wells please keep banging away at this issue.

    Your post on the education isuues are brilliant.

  3. That should be issues..

  4. Paul
    I like your look-abroad comparisons, but it seems like you (correctly) hold up Canadian announcements/programs/political gobbldeygook to your nose and smell them. Foreign ones you throw out there for consideration. Consider how overblown and half-true most explanations for domestic programs typically are; it’s safe to say other politicians are at least in the same league for hot air as our own. Be sure to turn your Irregulars onto both sides for examination.

    best
    David Sachs

  5. Well, I can tell you that at a glance, BC is spending about $350 Million more per year in 2008-09 than it did in 2001-02, or a total annual increase of about 2.7%. So their spending has kept pace with inflation, but not with new universities (growth in UNBC, addition of TRU and UBC Okanagan)

  6. UPDATE: One reason I like having comments open (so far!) is that it cuts down on my incoming email, because readers with a bone to pick feel free — and should feel free — to just post their thoughts right here. But I still get lots of email, including this very useful contribution from a well-informed regular reader:

    “As I read the Australian stuff, here’s what’s happened.

    “A couple of years ago, the previous (Howard) government set up a $6bn slush fund called the Higher Education investment fund. Put money (from surpluses) in, take it out whenever you want, for whatever projects you feel like as long as they are marginally connected to higher ed. Like those “stabilization” or “rainy day” funds some provincial governments got addicted to in the 90s, only with an HE focus. Or, if you like, the Millennium Foundation and CFI only with no rules at all. You can imagine what our auditor general would say about that.

    “What happened in the budget was two things: one, they dumped another 5bn in and changed the name to an “education trust fund”. Two, they announced that next year they will take out $500M and spend it on a one-time shot on infrastructure (which, in proportional terms, is slightly less than the one-time shot Canadian institutions got for infrastructure out of Bill C-48).

    “As for the rest of this endowment: will it be spent on infrastructure? Maybe. It could be spent on just about anything. Will it be spent anytime soon? Who knows – there are no rules.”

    Wells here again. Not for the first time, we are reminded that the Chretien government didn’t just spend a lot of money on university research in the late 1990s, but that the spending was channelled through fairly smart program design Shortcomings in the design have since been addressed — Harper made CFI and other agencies open their books to Access to Information legislation, for instance — but we’re still getting benefits from that early decision to concentrate as carefully on delivery mechanisms as on dollar totals.

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