Non-academics Andrew Norton and David Kemp recommend privatisation of the university system with subsidies paid to private as well as government suppliers. Universities don’t only supply private goods so I am unclear of the motivation here though libertarian thrill seekers will get a jolt of blood through their arteries when they read this proposal. Of course the profit-motive may not drive good outcomes if students cannot easily assess the quality of a supplier and an asymmetric information externality (AEI) arises. That’s typically the case and indeed the rationale for education – people come to learn because they are otherwise ignorant. The AEI is built into the idea of an education – the idea that there are teachers and those taught with the teachers assessing a field and informing those interested in but otherwise ignorant of that field. That’s why academics not K-mart dog food salespeople (or propagandists from the Liberal Party) should manage university programs. If asymmetric information issues are ignored then “lemons” problems emerge and universities enjoy a competitive race to the bottom that will maximise profitable output at the expense of any semblance of quality.
On the other hand the mock entrepreneurs who dominate the current university system and who rattle on about KPIs and market-determined outcomes are so awful and incompetent that I doubt full privatisation would do much worse in terms of delivering bad outcomes. Maybe quality dog food salespeople will outperform the current pretenders who couldn’t organise a riot! The latter cretinous lot have already substantially damaged the Australian universities so, from here on in, further damage may add little to social costs. When the river is full of shit an extra defecation or two adds little to social cost.