| Education, Executive Director Comment

Successful HEPP faces death by a thousand cuts

This article by IRU Executive Director, Conor King was published in The Australian newspaper 11 May 2016

The federal government’s flagship equity program has never been allowed to become what it was meant to be.

When the latest round of cuts hit, the Higher Education Participation Program will have been turned back into the small, well-meaning but ineffective equity program it replaced.

Since its inception, HEPP has been the go-to program when governments of both sides wanted savings. The $152 million hit in last week’s budget will remove 40 per cent of its funding by 2019-20.

The outcomes from HEPP have been positive, if not as high as predicted.

While the growth in low socioeconomic status students has been faster than for others — they will reach 18.1 per cent of all students in the coming year — it is still way short of 25 per cent but shows progress towards the initial target of 20 per cent.

So why do we need HEPP and how should it operate? To be effective, it needs to be a program with scale, so it avoids being well-meaning but piecemeal.

The 2008 Bradley review argued that its predecessor was too small, over-regulated and caught up in worthy but small projects. It was not driving significant change. Denise Bradley combined the new demand-driven system with a key funding element, equal to 4 per cent of base funding, to create incentives for universities to improve participation and completions of students from all under-represented groups.

The argument was that if universities received serious money for each low-SES student, they would have the incentive to increase enrolments and the flexibility to allocate resources as necessary to ensure retention through to graduation. Action would be university-wide, not limited to the efforts of equity units. It was a comprehensive approach.

The key issue now is whether universities responded in the anticipated way. One sign of success would be that students from all backgrounds enrolled in similar proportions and that universities ensured support was available for students who needed it. Read the full article attached or read here (subscription based news source).

Conor King, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities 10 May 2016