Five questions Labor must answer

plus the case for pathway programmes

too much to forget at Murdoch U

and Deakin delivers with Open Day

Labor line-up

Tanya Plibersek is the new education shadow minister, with Kate Ellis taking charge of voced and TAFE. Kim Carr moves to innovation, industry, science and research. Doug Cameron looks after skills and apprenticeships in the outer shadow ministry. There are also shadow assistant ministers in the education and related space, Terri Butleruniversities, Tim Hammondinnovation and Nick Champion–science. So no potential for confusion here – when CMM has a question about innovation funding in HE research there are just five people who might have the answer. As to teacher education, there is Ms Plibersek, Ms Ellis, Senator Cameron (voced in schools) and assistant shadow minister for schools, Andrew Giles.

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Time for Tanya to tell all

There are university leaders who are quietly jubilant Kim Carr is off, if not entirely, their patch, “been there too long and stopped listening five years ago,” is the way one put it. This is far from fair, while Senator Carr was not above a nup-a-thon when it came to ideas other than his own at least he had plans for higher education. And he did not care who they annoyed, which one way or another was pretty much everybody in the higher education policy community, other than the central plan supporting tertiary education union (below), and the large numbers of staff and students who agree with it.

But moving Senator Carr from education to innovation does gives Labor space to walk away from his policies. The challenge for new shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek and her junior universities spokesperson Terri Butler is to set out where Labor now stands on Senator Carr’s big five ideas: (i) a national system of polytechniques with universities and TAFE combining to provide sub-degree courses and pathway programmes, (ii) an end to unrestricted demand driven funding for undergraduate places, (iii) a policy agency independent of the Department of Education, (iv) industrial research hubs tied to existing needs in the economy, or at least the unionised manufacturing bits of it – although they will need to talk to Senator Carr about this and (v) enrolment objectives for universities negotiated with government

Ms Plibersek may say it is up to the government to propose and the Opposition to constructively oppose, to which CMM replies, “stuff” and quite possibly “nonsense.” Labor knocked off the Pyne plan to deregulate higher education, leaving the system without direction for two years. The state of the Senate ensures the Opposition can do the same in the new term. Senator Carr offered a comprehensive alternative across the portfolio, the education community has a claim to know whether it still stands.

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Outcomes up, demand down

Fulltime higher education graduate employment is under 70 per cent, a 30 year low while TAFE matches its graduates to workforce needs, writes Heather Dawes for NSW TAFEBytes. So if university is not a “golden ticket to a career” why are public VET enrolments down year after year? Beats CMM, problem is an answer appears to elude the TAFE mandarins as well.

Heng honoured

Monash immunologist Tracy Heng is the National Stem Cell Foundation’s 2016 Metcalf Prize winner. She works on stem cell based therapies to correct poor immune responses due to age and disease.

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BEHERT: building innovation

The Business Higher Education Round Table was building innovative industry-university links way before they became a higher-education funding fundamental. “Clusters of innovation and excellence are the critical incubators of new technology. Building linkages between the academic and business worlds is vital for rapid transfer of ideas. We need to identify sectors where we can get some comparative intellectual advantage and build on those strengths,” BHERT urged in 1998. Rather than just advocate the Round Table acted, creating awards for collaboration and innovation between industry and education and winning projects  over the last decade are still relevant. In the last year universities and voced providers have taken Malcolm Turnbull’s advice to embrace innovation; expanding appointments, investing in industry-linked research and reaching out to potential partners. The BHERT awards should be a core part of their plans.

Paths most travelled

The push for transparent university standards risks missing ways to improve the path taken by the half of students who ignore the ATAR, according to a major new report. The study by a multi-university team and published by Curtin University’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, finds university enabling programmes meet their objective of preparing people for university who would otherwise miss out, especially those in equity groups.

Based on a survey of students at eleven universities who variously entered via VET or enabling programmes, the survey found, “the enabling pathway offers access to higher education for many students who would otherwise be denied the opportunity to participate.” While the report acknowledges below average retention rates for both groups it points out that this applies to all students taking a pathway course, not just those from equity groups. It also finds the generality of VET students who moved on to university, some 66 per cent, did not use voced as a means to higher study. “The VET and enabling pathways serve distinct cohorts of students and act in a complementary, not contrasting fashion. It is a case of enabling and VET, not enabling or VET,” the report concludes.

Enabling programs may be a small proportion of overall sector load, and are unlikely to feature as prominently as a VET qualification or an incomplete VET or higher education as a mechanism for entry in the short term. However, if enabling is demonstrably effective in addressing the specific educational needs of some student groups there is merit in considering changes to current enabling program policy; for example, in terms of volume and/or enabling load and/or changes to the design features of the enabling policy.”

As Curtin’s Tim Pitman and his fellow authors put it in a letter to the Higher Education Standards Panel, which is inquiring into  how university entry standards are presented; “we think it of critical importance that measures designed to improve the transparency of higher education admission processes give appropriate consideration to the full range of alternative pathways, including enabling programmes, sub bachelor programmes and VET. These pathways add a degree of complexity to any proposed admissions transparency framework. It is essential that this complexity be recognised, otherwise prospective students will be misinformed.”

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Superior service

Cynics say “customer service” used to be an oxymoron in universities. It certainly isn’t now and as competition for students in a stable market picks up, the quality of IT support for the entire university community is essential. You can hear how the University of Adelaide rebuilt its reputation for IT service at Service Management 16, plus speakers from QUT, USQ and the University of Melbourne.

RUN for the money

Responses to Simon Birmingham’s discussion paper designed to take higher education off the election agenda are due today. But while the paper has done its job universities are now inconveniently for the government responding.

The Regional Universities Network provides its standard response to all inquiries – members need more money to serve their communities, grow their research, and bring their enrolments to the same proportion as the cities.

Specifically, RUN opposes a 20 per cent cut to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, arguing the proposed flagship courses will not help it member raise enough replacement revenue. It supports the demand driven system and its extension to sub degree courses, but only offered by universities. It agrees there is a case for allocating Commonwealth supported postgraduate places, “to areas of specific skills shortage and student demand.” If student fees increase “it is important regional students are given additional support to attend university.” And it adamantly opposes using the ATAR to create a two-tier entry system. “We oppose a scenario where the demand driven system applies to students with high ATARS and soft caps applied to others.” There is more, much more, like funding for regional and outer metro unis to build “transformative infrastructure,” but you get the idea.

CMM suspects RUN can go as hard as it can without attracting big buckets of money but the state of the parliament ensures that what it has it will hold.

All in the timing

From the government supported stages of the ABC and The Conversation to the social media marquees of university sites to the soapbox of blogs no academic need want for an outlet in the digital marketplace of ideas. So why is the NSW National Tertiary Education Union planning a search service for anybody in need of a scholarly quote or expert advice? Because the apparatchiks are astute. For a start, it would be a service for fee-paying members but most important it would also extend the union’s reach on its own issues as comrade commentators with media credibility are asked to comment on broader issues than their own research. But there is one problem, which any journalist can explain, the chance of an academic answering their phone when a hack needs comment fast never strong. Even in these no-deadline days availability is all.

“Move on” not all the answer at Murdoch

Murdoch VC Eeva Leinonen urges her colleagues move on now that the WA Corruption and Crime Commission has published its scathing judgement on the serious misconduct of former VC Richard Higgott.

Professor Leinonen was in Wollongong during the events that caused the inquiry but while it was not her problem then the aftermath is her problem now and members of the Murdoch community think failures of process, people and policies during Professor Higgott’s term should be addressed.

As campus union leader Anne Price puts it, advice to ‘move on’, “profoundly under-estimates the level of distress that this sorry period in Murdoch’s history has generated in Murdoch staff, and fails to acknowledge the need for healing and reconciliation regarding those past matters. The period during which some members of the leadership were apparently breaching the university’s code of conduct was a period in which members of staff were being, in some cases, ruthlessly pursued for relatively minor transgressions. The sense of injustice is real and maintained. We ask that the university consider how it can publicly, and in cooperation with the staff at Murdoch, acknowledge the wrongs and work together to build a more sustainable future at Murdoch.”

Dr Price is too astute not to tie this to the present negotiations for a new enterprise agreement, urging management to leave employment conditions in a “transparent and enforceable document” so that staff can have faith the university’s policies “are transparent, accountable, stable and able to be enforced.” Point scoring to be sure but a fair one.

Roadmap roadshow

Consultations are occurring on the national research infrastructure roadmap (Campus Morning Mail July 21). Starting tomorrow in Perth they roll on until the start of September. As with submissions it is considered poor form to use the process to make bids for kit – but when the stakes are so high, who will care about form.

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Top of the class

Jen Scott Curwood is the Australian Teacher Education Association’s Teacher of the Year. The University of Sydney senior lecturer is honoured for her work in professional learning and leadership.

Open Day of the day

Deakin U’s  open days are state of the art, combining advice on the university experience, course information and a sense of fun to be had on campus. There are segways to ride and superheros to hug plus the all but mandatory virtual reality this and that. But the strong sense that Deakin is student focused is the copy about information sessions, which is written as if Deakin staff actually care about attracting students. Thus crime scene investigations Waurn Ponds; “provides students with a real-life crime scene, staged with gruesome elements, forensic investigators are confronted with – body fluids and blood, fingerprints, fibres and weapons ”

But, you splutter this is show biz as well as science. Nailed it one CMM replies. Deakin grasps that open day is about branding the university as well as information for 2017 starters. Thus it also provides a guide to making the most of all open days not just Deakin’s – and guess which university readers will trust. Of course people who can’t make it to campus can always use the interactive online comprehensive course guide – which rather makes much of OD irrelevant, not that Deakin will want anybody to work that out.

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Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au