An article published in The Australian today ‘Push for universities to share students‘ discussed some of my views regarding the lessons we have learnt from deregulating the schools sector and the consequential impact on the ‘market’ dynamics of educational institutions (i.e. how universities behave). One of the myths put forward as a reason for deregulating fees within the higher education sector in Australia is the (misguided) belief that competition in student fees will lead to institutional diversity. However, when it comes to experience goods in education, student (parent) risk aversion leads to a strong preference for universities (schools) to offer the largest range of subjects possible given available funds. This leads to the crowding of efficiencies from specialization and potentially sacrifices educational quality if the competition is intense.
The main driver of student (parent) risk aversion is the high switching costs associated with changing misinformed choices. This happens a lot with experience goods where there is little opportunity to repeatedly test choices. Choices in education are completely different to consumer purchases of milk or bread for example. Where a bad choice is low cost and easily rectified. Continue reading