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Game of Realpolitik

Australia’s experience suggests that English higher education institutions will become ever more politicised.

Over the past two decades English universities have held a twofold advantage over their counterparts in countries with similar higher education systems. Both the presence of a buffer body, in the form of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and the strong adherence to the Haldane principle have acted in their favour. The funding council has been responsible for the distribution of public monies and has made changes to resource allocation without major distortions to the financial outlook of most universities. The Haldane principle locks in policy advice by experts rather than leaving researchers solely dependant on the decisions of elected representatives. All this has helped underpin the English higher education system, maintaining its resilience while bringing it up-to-date. But this position could change with the proposed shift in the status of funding council and probable reaction of universities.

In Australia the Tertiary Education Commission, which was the equivalent of the funding council, was abolished in 1987 as part of the education reforms put in place during the Labor government led by Bob Hawke. Since then, the development of the Commonwealth grant allocation model, whereby the Australian government subsidises tuition costs for higher education students, has been the responsibility of departments and their ministers.

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