Robinson acts to calm private provider debate

April’s acronym award

Goes to Belinda Robinson of Universities Australia for introducing NUHEP (non university higher education provider) into a media statement yesterday. Respect.

Robinson restores order

On Sunday Universities Australia embraced the Kemp-Norton report’s recommendation that demand driven funding should stay. However by Tuesday chief executive Belinda Robinson was sailing into a subordinate proposal, that TEQSA approved private providers should access Commonwealth Supported Places for undergraduates. She told The Australian “there are a number of education providers that are ASX listed … In these times of fiscal constraint, there would be a number of taxpayers scratching their heads to understand th e use of taxpayer funds to underpin the profits of commercially listed companies.” That night Australian Catholic University Vice Chancellor Greg Craven went on PM to express the same opinion, just without the restraint. (Incidentally host Mark Colvin described Professor Craven as the “lead VC for Universities Australia”, surely the announcer’s choice of words, unless the ACU chief was speaking for the organisation). Professor Craven compared allocating CSPs to private providers to introducing “hungry goannas in the Melbourne Cup” and suggested that for profits were not fit to compete with universities. “The thing that universities have in common is they are established by law for public purposes, and they are not-for-profit, which means that every single cent they get is ploughed back into the education enterprise. That is not the case with every private provider; it’s not the case with every type of body that’s going to be funded here. You’ve got a basically different psychology here, which is to make money.” This undoubtedly went down well with university people who loathe free enterprise education but with government MPs and ministers, I’m guessing not so much.

Which is probably why Ms Robinson settled everything down yesterday with a carefully calibrated statement. “Although universities are not opposed to even more competition, this represents a radical change to the ecology of Australian higher education and warrants further, deep and comprehensive analysis, including of any unintended or undesirable consequences. ” Ms Robinson went on to point to quality control and reputational risk for the system as a whole, “while there are excellent private providers, there is a risk that subsidies for for-profit NUHEPs would encourage others to opt for high volume, low cost courses.” That should be enough to calm everybody down, at least while we all wait for the minister to respond to Kemp-Norton.

Hipster alert

Federation University announced its “Tweed Ride” yesterday for May 10 in Ballarat. This fashionable outing involves people riding bicycles best left at Downton Abbey while dressed as P G Wodehouse characters. Can fixies and (shudder) hipsters be far behind? Hopefully not. Rob Brooks from the University of New South Wales has research that shows beards are only fashionable when rare, which is something admirers of songwriters Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough already knew, “Beards were in, but now they’re out/They had their day, now they’re passé/(Just ask me if you’re in doubt.).”

Annoyed NUHEPS

Belinda Robinson’s restraint was to late to stop a cross Claire Field from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training issuing a statement asking why UA was attacking the idea of private providers receiving CSP, when it was recommended in the 2008 Bradley Review. She’s right, Bradley’s recommendation 29 proposes a demand driven entitlement to a funded place apply to private providers once an appropriate regulator was running (meaning TEQSA). Of course that does not mean UA endorsed it back then. In fact, the peak public sector body did not mention it specifically in its response to then prime minister Julia Gillard, telling her that ultra careful consideration of demand driven funding across the board was required. But no, UA did not mention goannas.  

Universal language

The University of Queensland’s Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education is offering an English language competency test for healthcare workers who want to migrate here– it is accepted by the feds. It covers 12 occupations, from dentistry to vet science. I wonder if being able to say “do you have private health insurance?” is in the test.

The colour of money

UniSuper regularly copes a caning for participating in the capitalist system and specifically for investing in companies that members do not approve of. However, the fund has long provided members with “a socially responsible” investment option, which it intends to extend by excluding alcohol, weapons, fossil fuel and gaming companies (tobacco was always out). And yesterday the fund announced it was lead investor in a World Bank green bond issue in Australia. Apparently the AAA rated bond “is designed for members that (sic) want to drive positive environmental and social outcomes.”

Eye on the ocean

Geoscientist Jonathan Nott from James Cook University spoke on what the weather could do to the Queensland coast over the next century in Cairns last night. But the selling points promoting his talk weren’t the usual global warnings about the long-term impact of coal and capitalism. “Come and hear how your property is likely to fare in the near future, the university suggested. They’re a pragmatic bunch up north.

Engineering bad outcomes

The University of Queensland is very pleased that 24 per cent of this year’s engineering intake is female. Understandably so, according to Engineers Australia the national per centage of engineering undergraduates who are women is just 14 per cent, which has not moved much, if at all, for 20 years. What is worse, those that graduate don’t stay in the game – EA argues that half of them bail. But why? US researcher Carroll Serron has an idea which she explained to me a bit back – in the United States women engineers don’t like engineering’s blokey culture, or more accurately, the blokes don’t like them. “This is not a story of poor women who can’t make it – they have options and they don’t want to put up with male engineers who don’t feel comfortable with women around them,” Professor Serron told me for a yarn in  The Australian. And no, it is not because they go off to have kids.  “Lots of engineering education is based on teams and male students stereotype women. These experiences persist in the workforce and women decide ‘why bother?’ ” she said. Does this apply here? I have no idea; it would seem strange if men are still behaving stupidly. But while UofQ can legitimately argue that even if blokes are it is nothing to do with the university and point to its efforts to encourage women. But it’s a wicked waste of public resources and students’ time if male graduates make life so uncomfortable for their female peers that they abandon their careers.

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