Why students should subsidise research

Plus the Group of Eight Innovates and RMIT’s achievable objectives 

VET FEE beyond HELP

So how much trouble is the VET FEE HELP model in? Enough trouble for Alan Jones, yes Alan Jones, to comprehensively and coherently bucket rorting private-providers on the radio yesterday, here. When the tribune of the people is explaining to his older audience what is crook in training you know the funding system legitimate private providers (who Mr Jones accepts exist) rely on is in deep trouble.

ANU Sept 15

Assertive Eight innovates

The Group of Eight is really on-board the innovation bandwagon, with commercialisation executives from its members, plus VCs and DVCs meeting in Canberra this week to hammer out an innovation and industry collaboration strategy for 2016. The group will also meet with Innovation Minister Chris Pyne and assistant science minister Karen Andrews over the next couple of days. According to Go8 Executive Director Vicki Thomson, her members produce 80 per cent of the entire university system’s commercialisation income but accept the government expects even more. This week’s meeting will lay the foundations for Go8 start-ups to set out what works in innovation at events in the new year. For the Go8 to assert its leadership in higher education innovation is smart stuff. “Government cannot deliver on the innovation agenda without the universities. So not working together is not an option,” a long term observer of the research impact debate said last night.

I’ll see your Abbott and raise you a Tweddell

Yesterday morning CQU announced its next chancellor, John Abbott, an energy engineer with a 30 year connection with CQU and its predecessors. So later in the day James Cook U announced its long-serving chancellor, Lieutenant General John Grey is retiring and would be replaced by diplomat and JCU alumnus Bill Tweddell. Is there nothing these two Queensland institutions will not compete over.

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RMIT’s achievable objectives

Ten months into the job and RMIT VC Martin Bean has put his stamp on the university with a new five year plan. Overall the document takes RMIT in the direction it is moving in now, with an emphasis on teaching professional courses, connecting with industry and providing students with globally useful skills. As such it builds a brand that is recognisably RMIT, a big improvement on the generality of university plans, which are often interchangeable assortments of anodyne aphorisms.

And even better the plan’s success is assured, what with the absence of hard numbers among the objectives. For example, in 2020: “RMIT students are well prepared for global labour markets. RMIT graduates are attractive to employers and recognised for their creative, collaborative and entrepreneurial edge.” Which can mean whatever the university wants.

Similarly, in 2020 management will want staff, “to feel that their expertise is valued and see opportunities to develop their skills and careers. Employment arrangements encourage staff to develop their passions and aspire to career development.” Good-oh but in the absence of specifics success can be defined to suit.

And CMM is breathless at the vaulting ambition for 2020 of; “RMIT is Australia’s most global university in presence and action and our distinctive global operations are widely recognised.” By who, for what and how will it be defined?

One ambition in the plan that will likely be measured, and long before 2020 is the result of the simplicity programme (CMM November 12), now being scoped by outgoing COO Stephen Somogyi. The plan is discrete on this but having “simplifying organisational structures and processes,” as one priority and “design and implement organisational systems which are more supportive of the needs and goals of our staff, students and partners, shaped by the experiences of the people who use them” as another makes it pretty plan that there is change on the way.

Don’t sweat the research stuff

Edith Cowan U is very big on research into exercise as treatments for serious illness, they even have fund raising fun-runs for research. So it looks like a false start for the university if, as the WA branch of the National Tertiary Education Union suggests, it is outsourcing management of its gyms, where people involved in research train.

ANU Sep 15 4

Spread the wealth for research

Andrew Norton put the teaching cats among the research pigeons a few weeks back with his Grattan Institute paper suggesting that there would be plenty of public money for university teaching if institutions did not use Commonwealth Grant Scheme funds to cross-subsidise research (CMM November 2). Now the always-considered Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities Group has belled the teaching moggi, responding that it is perfectly legitimate for universities to pay for academic research time from money allocated on the basis of teaching staff.

“We do not need a mystic relationship between research and university teaching to see that many elements of university expenditure relate to both and would be difficult to disentangle other than as a theoretical split. The issue here is the impact of splitting what is so often combined: there are academics employed to research, other employed to teach, but still the majority are employed for both,” Mr King argues.

And if this means research funding is linked to disciplines that are popular, well there are worse ideas, he adds.

“Students are a valid basis for government to allocate a base level of research funding since it encourages universities to do research in line with where students go. Despite grumbles about 18 year olds determining the research future of the country, there is something to be said for a proxy that pushes research into all areas where students think the future lies. It goes to the fundamental concept of a university combining research and teaching – in contrast to other higher education providers who have no research obligations.”

In any case, he asks, who says the CGS is all about teaching; “nomenclature is not in itself a decisive argument but the lack of reference to teaching in Commonwealth Grant Scheme does not upfront suggest a solely teaching purpose.”

Of course students may not agree – which will matter if the government ever hikes HECS.

TEQSA singularis exstitisset

TEQSA chief Anthony McClaran spoke yesterday at the International Peer Review Benchmarking Workshop in Hobart (soon to be a major game from the makers of Assassins’ Creed). It was substantial stuff, dealing with engine-room HE quality control issues. In particular Mr McClaran looked at assessment in the context of the finally adopted Higher Education Standards Framework, which should start to apply in 2017, and set out how TEQSA will assist providers with applications lodged before the new standards kick-in.

He also set out ten TEQSA initiatives, including an international quality benchmarking project, a digital student data project, which sounds intriguing and a “college of peers” –which coming from the peerless Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency sounds implausible

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