The way fields of knowledge are split into teaching and research clusters in higher education in Australia is confusing . We have Field of Research codes through which we align our research outputs with disciplinary groupings and we have Field of Education codes through which the government analyses student numbers, teaching performances and funding. They don’t always line up, which causes some headaches for staffing and management. In the context of the current shake-up to education funding, FOR and FOE mismatch is the least of anyone’s worries.
The proposed overhaul of funding tiers so they are reduced and reorganised from eight tiers to five has changed the amount of funding universities receive for each Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP). As part of the current series of investigative hearings of the Education and Employment Legislation Committee of Senate Estimates, various senators asked questions about the proposed changes to education funding arrangements.
Below is an exchange from Thursday 5 June 2014 between Senator Rhiannon and various public servant representatives (page 55 of the pdf):
To explain Mr Warburton and Ms Paul’s respective answers, and then why the answers are wrong, requires understanding the structure of Field of Education codes.
The Field of Education codes have a tree like structure. The 12 two digit codes begin with 01 Natural and Physical Sciences, then 02 Information technology, and end with 11 Food, Hospitality and Personal Services and 12 Mixed Field Programmes. From each of these two digit FOE codes it then separates into four digit codes. Senator Rhiannon was asking about why some of the disciplines in the four digit FOE of 1007 Communication and Media Studies (in the larger two digit FOE of 10 Creative Arts) in the current proposal were being funded at different rates.
The four-digit codes then split into six-digit codes. In the current proposal, the six-digit FOE 100701 Audio Visual Studies is in a higher funding tier than the other four six-digit FOE areas:
100705 Written Communication
100707 Verbal Communication
100799 Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified
To explain this discrepancy Mr Warburton and Ms Paul both gesture towards the major 2011 report into funding arrangements, Base Funding Review.
The closest any part of the Base Funding Review report comes to supporting their comments is a section across pages 56-57 that deals with funding of the Visual and Performing Arts in the context of student-intensive studio and project-based modes of teaching:
The disparity in costs for FOE 10 (creative arts) between institutions suggests that it may need to be split between funding clusters with visual and performing arts moved to a funding cluster with a higher rate.
I can’t find anywhere in the Base Funding Review where it drills down to four digit FOE detail, let alone the detail required for an analysis at a six-digit FOE level that would make Mr Warburton and Ms Paul’s answer sufficient.
In my investigation into Mr Warburton and Ms Paul’s answer I realised there is a much bigger problem with the current policy proposal to separate funding into the proposed FOE-based tiers:
What is the relation between the level of macro detail of the two-digit FOEs in the 2011 Base Funding Review to the level of detail in the current budget proposal that differentiates funding on the basis of four-digit FOE and even six-digit FOE code clusters?
The 2011 Base Funding Review report and material does not provide an answer.
A large amount of explanatory information in the Base Funding Review report is provided by 161 submissions and from what I can gather none of these submissions provides the level of overview in the detail required to substantiate Mr Warburton and Ms Paul’s respective claims.
The Deloitte Access Economics report that is part of the supplementary material of the Base Funding Review report seems to be the basis of much of the non-submission-based material. The Deloitte report actually creates its own 19 groups based on aggregating combinations of two-, four- and six-digit FOEs. The report states, “Given the sheer number of 6 digit FOEs (more than 300) it was deemed appropriate to estimate the model based on an aggregation of clusters and bands to form ‘groups’” (21). The FOE two-digit code of 10 is simply regarded as ‘Art’ it seems. Again, there is no supporting material for Mr Warburton and Ms Paul’s respective claims that the separation of funding tiers is derived from the 2011 Base Funding Review.
Where is the detail for how these funding decisions were made?
The Australian Government should address the identified areas of underfunding in the disciplines of accounting, administration, economics, commerce, medicine, veterinary science, agriculture, dentistry, and visual and performing arts, and should consider increasing the funding level for humanities and law.