The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Throwing money does not a good policy make

In Federal politics today: allow me to congratulate Kevin Rudd for actually proposing a new tertiary education policy, the first real offer from either side of the House in, what, three years?

(This comes on the back of a TV ad from last week that surprised me — election propaganda already?!)

But I reckon that the proposal to reduce HECS fees for maths and science will achieve little. (It deeply, deeply disturbs me that this means I’m agreeing with Julie Bishop.) One part of his proposal — reduced HECS for people who study science and then teach — already exists here in WA, and while that policy has made a little difference, it hasn’t exactly been spectacularly successful.

As part of a bigger set of policies, then yes, reducing HECS costs is a good idea. But since price was far from my first consideration when choosing degrees, I think the money would be better spent elsewhere — on scholarships, or on promoting science in schools, or on creating specialist centres that attract students by conducting cutting-edge research.

At the local level: the deputy mayor of the City of Perth has announced he wants a review into central-city parking. Apparently there’s not enough, and he says that building more should be a high priority.

There’s a name for this kind of behaviour: blatant revenue-grab. “More parking” is, of course, a synonym for “more dollars in parking meters”. Never mind the fact that there’s more than fifty thousand parking bays in the CBD for about a hundred thousand workers — a much higher ratio than any other Australian city.

How about taking the money for building carparks and using it to ease the pressure on CAT services at peak times? Or how about actually doing something towards the Western Foreshore development (which recently disappeared from the council’s official Web site)?

  1. I think halving the HECS debt of students who study math and science will have more of an effect than we first presume. Of course, I agree that cost of my degree was the last thing on my mind when I selected my course, however, if there was an option where I could half my debt, and then possibly half it again upon graduation I would give that course a thought, even if I wouldn’t have even considered it before. This scheme will attract students from 3 different avenues: 1) Those who never really considered a science career may give it some thought because of the higher profile it will receive because of the scheme. 2) Those tossing up between a science career and something else, may be swayed by promise of less debt. 3) Students who avoid university altogether for fear of a large HECS debt may be convinced to enter into a science tertiary course.

    Personally, I wasn’t even aware that WA had a similar scheme already in place, therefore it is unlikely that the majority of year 12 student do either, no wonder it hasn’t been that successful. For something like that to work, you need to make it high profile so that it gets into kids heads and really makes them think about it.

    I think it would also help if we removed some of the stigma that surrounds studying science. High school kids see scientists as geeky old people with lab coats and fuzzy hair. We need to do more in schools to create an understanding of what real scientists do and what career paths a science degree can take you on. Heck, I am in my honours year of my science degree and I still don’t have a great understanding of what my career choices are.

  2. As much as I agree that improved public transport is Best (especially after hours), the city DOES need more parking.

  3. Or how about actually doing something towards the Western Foreshore development (which recently disappeared from the council’s official Web site)?

    I have a pet theory that there will never be a foreshore development, and that the West Australian many years ago made a deal with PCC that once a year, on a slow news day, the PCC will release “exciting” new plans for foreshore development about which fuck all will ever be done.

  4. Cara: I agree entirely that improving the image of science in students’ minds (particularly younger ones) is crucial, it’s just that I really doubt changing HECS fees, on its own, will achieve that. I reckon that cultural & social issues — like the stereotypes you mention — are bigger factors than cost, and that tackling those should be a higher priority. But for a politician, that’s harder to do than just throwing money to subsidise courses.

    You’re also right that the WA government’s HECS subsidy hasn’t been promoted well — there were (poorly produced) ads at the bus stops at UWA, but aside from a press release that was all I ever heard about it. So maybe what was needed was a more coordinated set of policies — like how the rebate for buying water-saving stuff is just one of several measures to encourage people to save water.

    AV: I quite like that theory — it explains much more than just the foreshore proposal!

    Rick: no, it doesn’t. Perth already has too many spaces — the problems faced by one-off visitors are problems of management, not an excuse to build more carparks.

    If the deputy mayor does what he wants, we’ll just get another expensive clone of the Convention Centre carpark, which was intended for users of the centre but is mostly used by people working in the city (i.e. people who should be taking trains). Fremantle has only 7k bays for 23k workers, but doesn’t have problems anywhere near as severe, partly because Fremantle’s parking fees don’t encourage commuters to park in areas that should be set aside for visitors.

  5. Comparing the Perth and Freo parking situations is disingenuous, HB. It’s not just a matter of how many people are working in the city but how many are driving in, how many have access to decent public transport and how far they have to travel each day. I don’t think it would be a far stretch to say that Perth workers have to travel further than their Freo counterparts. Also, most of Freo is within easy walking distance of the train and bus stations. That’s not the case for Perth, which is spread out over an area many times larger. The situations are very different.

  6. Oh I definitely agree that the HECS subsidy on its own will do little to improve the image of math and science / math and science teachers – it needs to be a several pronged attack for it to work effectively. I just wanted to point out that it would be a step in the right direction, if promoted well enough.

    As for the parking issue, I have never ever had a problem parking in the city, as long as I was willing to pay. Sure, at night when the street parking is free, it is often hard to find one – that is the only time I can imagine someone saying there is a parking issue… and even then its only because they want to avoid paying in the multi-storey places, or walking too far.

  7. skribe: yes it probably is a lame comparison — but it’s also the only example I could think of that other Perthurians can easily relate to. (Also, you might be overestimating the quality of public transport around Fremantle there.)

    My point still stands: the ratio of parking spots to number of people actually going to Perth is much higher than the rest of Australia, let alone the rest of the world, so any parking problems are most likely the cause of inadequate management, not inadequate supply.

    Cara: then we differ only by degrees. I agree it’d be a step in the right direction, I just think it’s such a small step that we shouldn’t bother for now :-)

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