Gold-standard survey reveals student satisfaction strong

Plus the Finance Minister will love Bond U research and Taggart of Murdoch steps up 

The gent moves on

Ian “the gent” Young has taken up a half-time appointment at the University of Melbourne, where he will lead a marine engineering project and continue his research in ocean and climate science. After retiring as ANU VC he returned to Swinburne, where he was previously vice chancellor.

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Great but not great enough

Some 80 per cent of higher education students in Australia are satisfied with their overall study experience according to the gold standard Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching for 2015, released this morning. The survey asked students in all public and private universities and 39 non-university higher education providers in first and later course years to rate their experience. Overall some 86 per cent are satisfied with learning resources, 82 per cent with teaching quality and 81 per cent with skills engagement. The most notable problem area is learner engagement where 59 per cent of starting students are satisfied, increasing to 62 per cent in later course years. Significant numbers of students are also sceptical about graduate employment prospects.

Students in both public and private providers expressed similar levels of satisfaction across the board, except for learning materials, where 86 per cent of university students are satisfied compared to 74 per cent for those at non-university providers. Overall the satisfaction level was 80 per cent public and 78 per cent private.

Despite overall satisfaction, QILT reveals up to 20 per cent of commencing students consider quitting, 27 per cent of indigenous students. Education Minister Simon Birmingham warns universities against complacency pointing to sector-wide attrition of 15 per cent and suggesting that many of the reasons survey respondents provided are issues that universities can assist with. “Statistics like these are why I have asked the Higher Education Standards Panel to ensure Australian students are ‘uni-ready’ by providing greater transparency around what support is available and what will be expected of them through their studies,” Senator Birmingham says.

His comments are one of a series of statements since January pointing to the possibility of incentives and penalties for retention/attrition in the budget.

Melbourne management keen to listen

The University of Melbourne rejects suggestions that it does not want to involve staff in its Flexible Academic Programming (FlexAP), (CMM March 2). The programme is just starting and “we will be encouraging all staff and students to have their say,” a spokesman says. “It is also premature for the process to be characterised as change that is ‘threatening’ to our staff … the process is absolutely aimed at reviewing, canvassing and thoroughly analysing each area.” Good-o but the campus NTEU might take some convincing.

Campus Morning Mail

Taggart steps up

Andrew Taggart has stepped up to support academic independence at Murdoch University. Last week academic Kate Fitch tweeted a pic of students holding a banner supporting asylum seekers during O week, only to be told to delete it by a university officer. The reason given was that a manager did not want the university “brand” associated with politics. (CMM February 29)

When Dr Fitch kicked up the request was withdrawn but appalled that it had been made at all she went to see the acting VC. Professor Taggart told her the original tweet was exactly what the university should stand for. And just to make the point, last yesterday the university issued a photo of him with students holding a banner reading “let them stay” via Twitter. But not all on campus thinks this is enough and there are calls for a formal statement and an apology by the university – which must be making the manager who issued the original idiotic instruction just a little nervous.

Online loss leader

Online trainer Udemy is having a sale- with courses in data science, statistics and programming for $19 – normally $199 for the programming course, which includes 170 hours of lectures and 9.5 hours of video. This has to be a loss leader, but even scarier for universities using full-time staff to teach IT online, what if it isn’t?

Show and tell

For humanities scholars who fear exclusion in this age of industry engagement there is hope in Hamilton. That’s Alexander Hamilton first US Treasury secretary and author of most of the Federalist Papers. He is the subject of a musical theatre hit on Broadway by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on a serious biography by Ron Chernow. CMM is a big fan of the show, not least for the way it will put serious history before a young audience. The Rockefeller Foundation has just bought 20 000 seats for New York school students. Now that’s impact.

On your marks

Universities Australia will start its conference next Wednesday with a 5km delegates run led by Peter Hoj (VC UofQ) and Stephen “the people’s friend” Parker (Uni Canberra). No the bridge to bridge run along Lake Burley Griffin is not compulsory. For people who prefer to proceed at a less excessive pace, there is also a walk, with pacesetters John Dewar, (VC La Trobe) and Andrew “the stroller” Taggart, (acting VC, Murdoch). Professor Taggart really practises management by walking around so anybody who wants a word, that’s your chance.

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Big bucks for Bond

The National Health and Medical Research Council announced $129m in funding for 96 projects yesterday. The vast majority of grants were for modest sums (at least by medical research standards) but ten institutions cleaned up with awards over $1m. As usual the Group of Eight medical schools and the elite institute sector hoovered up money. Of 15 $1m and more awards the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute won two, worth $42.7m, the University of Melbourne collected $28.6 for two projects and the Garvan won one worth $9.1m. The University of Queensland and the Queensland Institute of Medicine had one each with a combined total $13.4m. But institutes outsider the auld elite also did well. The Australian Catholic University picked up $1.2m, Deakin U won $3m for two projects and Professor Paul Glasziou from Bond U received a respectable $9m for a project on “over-diagnosis and over-treatment as unintended consequences of modern healthcare … We will research the prevalence, causes and consequences of over-diagnosis and over-treatment, evaluate solutions and widely disseminate findings.” CMM suspects the finance minister will be very interested in this one.

Spring Street specials

Ah federalism, aint it grand! Just because the feds have national research and development priorities is no reason why Victoria should not have its own. Certainly the “strategies’ are mainly in common with Canberra’s (although, construction?) but they have their own state government funding. The programme launches at Swinburne U on March 17.

Absent innovators

“Innovation: when academia and tech collaborate,” Christopher Pyne opined yesterday. Um, just not very often. The innovation minister was talking about a La Trobe app to identify autism, developed with industry partner Sales Force, (CMM February 15), just as Times Higher released its league table of universities, which attract industry funding. On which Australia does not appear.

LMU Munich leads the world top 20 from Duke, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Johns Hopkins, with Anadolu U (Turkey) and Wageningen U (the Netherlands) equal fifth. The rest of the top 20 are equally cosmopolitan, including institutions from China and Switzerland, Brazil and Sweden. As to industry income generated by individual academics, the Germans are way out ahead ($US200k) of the US, China and South Korea. Australia rates 15th out of 30, with academics’ industry earnings barely a quarter of the industrial strength Germans.

For all the inevitable anomalies in the data it is yet another demonstration of how far Australia has to go. It’s going to take culture shifts more than rejigged funding formulas to change this. As the Brits demonstrate – for all the fame of the UK Catapult Programme they are 22nd on the THE list.

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Training in trouble

The long decline in training system numbers continues with release of September ’15 figures from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training. There were 295 000 apprentices and trainees then, 13 per cent down on 2014.

But if the present is bad the future is bleak. Having trouble finding a plumber now? It’s going to get worse with just 16 000 apprentice starts.

Overall commencements were down 19 per cent to 36 000 – yet another drop in a long-term trend. September starts last year were half the 76 900 they were in 2010.

So what’s the source of the strife? According to the NCVER’s Mette Creaser, research shows, “a subdued labour market and the uncapping of university places have an impact on the number of people entering into apprenticeships and traineeships.”

Undoubtedly true and the atmospherics of the quality crisis in the for-profit industry isn’t helping the reputation of training over all. Labor was also out yesterday blaming federal government funding, although the slide was underway on the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments’ watches. But the question which premiers do not want any one to ask is what are the state TAFE systems doing to improve products and customer service.

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