TIme to turn off the VET FEE HELP tap says Kim Carr

Plus Group of Eight plans innovation investment fund AND let’s hear it from Hurricane Scarlett

All in the mind

Wataru Sato and colleagues from Kyoto University report a “positive relationship between subjective happiness” and the precuneus in the brain. What’s more psychological training might be able to increase the grey matter volume in the precuneus and “thus enhance subjective happiness.” Those footsteps you hear are researchers ransacking the lab for a drug to expand this bit of the brain.

Go8’s innovation investment

The Group of Eight universities lead all others in links with industry and research with an impact beyond journal citations. Just ask CEO Vicki Thomson, (but only if you have plenty of time, woman’s a dynamo with data).

But the Eight aren’t slowing down. Staff from Go8 members are in Canberra this week planning (CMM November 24) a new strategy for applied research, which includes a $200m early-stage investment fund intended to target “the crucial gap that exists in Australia’s early stage commercialisation.”

The Go8 says it will likely be developed with UK tech investor, the IP group. If it comes off, it will “support the commercialisation of Australian research and to keep more of the benefits in Australia.”

There are a bunch of other activities, an entrepreneur intern programme in conjunction with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an innovation advisory board and a comms hub for access to all the Go8’s entrepreneurship courses.

But the fund is the big one – it should shut the PM up next time he wants to criticise universities for not innovating enough.

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She knows she can dance

The University of Sydney’s Pearl Lee has won the eighth international Dance Your PhD competition. Ms Lee and her chorus line won for her  dissertation “cellular interactions with tropoelastin.” The performance has subtitles, presumably for people who are not across the moves in chemistry. CMM wonders how somebody writing a PhD on Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds would go in the competition.

LA short story

Learning analytics is a flash name for education systems interrogating the mass of data they collect to study learning behaviour and assess everything from student attrition to teaching practice. The Australian experience is addressed by Cassandra Colvin (Uni SA) and many colleagues in what will surely be one of the last reports for the soon to close Office for Learning and Teaching. There is, the authors argue, “broad consensus: that LA will be a game changer.” Just not yet. “The lack of institutional exemplars and resources that can guide implementation and build institutional capacity represents a significant barrier for systemic adoption,” they write. In fact, as of July ’14 half of the institutions participating in the report did not have an LA programme.

The solution is to hasten slowly, with benefits flowing “from implementing small-scale LA initiatives, and growing the scope and scale of these programs, rather than aspiring to the generation and development of an ‘at-scale’ initiative in the first instance. … The findings in this report suggest that implementing early and to small scale, even if inadequately, will build capacity,” the authors write.”

Sirens sing out

The ABC reports US research finding people do not take the risk from severe storms with female names as seriously as those with male ones. Easily fixed, Cyclone Scarlet Overkill should do it.

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Entrepreneurs way ahead

People interested in the Innovation Statement are searching for hints of what might interest the government in yesterday’s report from chief economist Mark Cully. The Australian Innovation System Report is certainly awash with ideas, and some statistics that everybody urging more tax cuts for R&D might not want to mention. Like the way government spending on research increased by 140 per cent from 2001-02, to $10.1bn in 2013-14, but the share for public research agencies declined from 35 per cent in 1991 to 19 per cent in 2013.

Most universities won’t be pleased either– there are just two complimentary higher education case studies in the report, of QUT and UTS’s entrepreneurship programmes.

Market lift

CRC Association head Tony Peacock reports Israel’s research and development spend is the biggest in the world but the government’s share of it is the lowest in the OECD as a per centage of GDP. “Great leverage!” he concludes. Too right, and worth remembering, as people lobby for government giveaways in the imminent Innovation Paper.

“Time to turn off the tap”

The crisis in the VET FEE HELP system continues with the Australian Skills Quality Authority reporting it plans to cancel the registration of private providers, the Australian Institute of Professional Education and Cornerstone Investment Australia Pty Ltd trading as the Australian Institute of Commerce and Language and the Empower Institute.

ASQA concluded the majority of colleges it investigated in its latest round were either fully compliant or sufficiently so to continue under observation.

But this is way too late to restore the industry’s reputation, in the short, perhaps long, term. In getting stuck into private provider Evocca College yesterday Greens education spokesman Robert Simms showed why. Senator Simms is not especially impressed with Evocca’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the government’s VET FEE HELP reform bill. In particular he singles out Evocca’s proposal to reduce the debt repayment threshold to incomes as low as $30 000. “This will not only increase and accelerate the repayment of loans but will also ensure prospective students take a considered and deliberate approach on their decision to study knowing they will likely have to repay the debt at some future stage,” Evocca argues. To which Senator Simms responds that this; “paint students as the problem when there are huge structural problems … in the for-profit VET sector.”

Overall the Evocca submission strongly supports reform; including a student ombudsman and a mandatory code for recruitment brokers (Evocca says “more than 99 per cent of its students are directly engaged” by it.) “Better regulation will also protect the operation and reputation of the majority of quality VET providers who provide quality education but have otherwise lost credibility as a result of misleading and sometimes mischievous reporting of the facts,” Evocca CEO Craig White states.

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He knows of what he writes. Back in May there were accusations Evocca was enrolling large numbers of students in courses they were unlikely to complete. The company strenuously denied the claims but industry association the Australian Council for Private Education and Training investigated them anyway. In May ACPET found “there was no evidence provided that Evocca acted contrary to legislation or government policy. However, Evocca acknowledges that the on-going speculation and reporting involving it has undermined confidence in the sector and the ACPET membership. It is imperative that there be public and government trust and confidence in the private education sector and in particular in the ACPET membership,” (CMM May 1). Last month ASQA also reported Evocca had dealt with “non compliance” in marketing, assessment and student complaints and appeals policies and procedures and was now “compliant.”

Good-oh, the problem for Evocca is that it, along with the whole industry, is being tarred by the way some providers are enrolling vulnerable people and feathered by the way some have gamed the loan system.

As Labor’s Kim Carr put it last night; “Turnbull Government has lost control of the VET FEE-HELP system. Time to turn off the tap.” Yes this shambles of a scheme was designed on Labor’s watch, but this does does not get the government off the hook – saving the industry for the legitimate providers working in it will take more than Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker‘s reform legislation, now stalled in the Senate.

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