Barney Glover calls for funding certainty and stability

Plus UA commits to protecting professional standards 

Big days out

Some 900 of the great and the good are assembling in Canberra this morning for Universities Australia’s annual conference. There is no truth to the rumour that instead of the scheduled early morning fun-run around the lake several VCs chose to walk across it instead.

Show them the money

Universities Australia chair Barney Glover is calling for “both parties” to set out their election-year higher education policies in a formal debate. And he defines “policy and funding certainty and stability” as higher education’s “number one advocacy priority.”

“Almost two years of policy insecurity and uncertainty is taking its toll on the ability of universities to plan and allocate resources in their students best interests,” Professor Glover says.

In a National Press Club address today Professor Glover will also call for an increase in direct investment in innovation, warning the existing research and development tax concession has not delivered. Despite spending $2.9bn per annum, 30 per cent of total federal outlays on research, innovation and science, “we have seen only marginal improvement in Australia’s innovation performance he says.

“The vast majority of innovation undertaken in this country is limited to the adoption and modification of foreign innovations,” Professor Glover warns.

He will also call for a “premium tax concession” for businesses collaborating with public research institutions, which “could substantially improve its effectiveness in supporting cutting edge innovation.” Beyond that, he argues direct funding “can be more effective for small businesses and start ups.”

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Active listening

The silence surrounding the University of Melbourne’s Flexible Academic Programming is not as complete as expected, (CMM March 4). At least one chair of the workgroups working on ways to transform teaching and learning at the university is happy to meet with representatives of the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union to hear their perspective. Word is that HR management prefers project leaders not talk but that senior academics involved (being senior academics) have other ideas.

Professional practise

Barney Glover, for Universities Australia and Michael Catchpole for Professionals Australia will sign a Joint Statement of Principles for Professional Accreditation in Canberra today. The agreement is intended to ensure the community is assured “graduates of an Australian university course meet the criteria and standards for entry into the relevant level of professional practice in a specific professional discipline.”

While it details the rights, roles and responsibilities of both sides in substantive detail there is an undoubted emphasis on the obligations of universities. Both parties accept joint responsibility for;

“proactively identifying and communicating quality issues with graduate competencies and outcomes; using research and evidence to evaluate graduate outcomes and attainment and, where systematic evidence may suggest unsatisfactory outcomes, to work collaboratively towards their improvement; and investigating specific university practices, processes and policies where there is sufficient evidence to substantiate a claim of unsatisfactory graduate outcomes and attainment.”

However the cooperative approach only extends so far; “out of scope is the accreditation of courses offered by non-university education providers and higher education providers outside of Australia.”

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Play on

The universities of Adelaide and Melbourne will continue a century old Australian Rules tradition at the Adelaide Oval today week. That will confuse the new international students.

Not even close

The league table of the day is the UK Financial Times online MBA, no, not the QS online MBA ranking, that is so last month. Today’s Australian contender is the multi-monikered AGSM at UNSW which comes in at 8th, The FT and QS lists agree on the two top providers, the UK’s Warwick U and Spain’s IE and many other institutions appear on both, just nowhere near in the same order. But AGSM@UNSW didn’t crack QS – the Aus entry on it is Deakin (at 16th). You can’t accuse the rankers of just agreeing with each other.

Elephants in the UA auditorium

The certainty Barney Glover seeks (above) is probably not hiding in the herd of higher education policy elephants Mike Gallagher has corralled in a paper for the L H Martin Institute, released (entirely coincidentally, CMM is sure) this morning.

Mr Gallagher spent decades assembling and analysing HE models first for the feds and then for the Group of Eight and he sets out the results of aeons of experience in his new paper. He explains where higher education came from, where it is now and suggests the circumstances, which will shape policy, whichever party is in power.

Thus Mr Gallagher points to the “essential funding principles” that apply to post-Pyne policy:

Policy should promote diversification of funding sources, necessarily bringing new stakeholders into play.

“There should be competitive neutrality for ‘public’ and ‘private’ providers in terms of eligibility for student grants and loans.

“There should be competitive market determination of prices, traded off against relevance, quality and convenience for learners.

Research and engagement services should be paid for at cost when actually delivered.”

And if all that doesn’t alarm the elephants here’s Mr Gallagher on why the only certainty in more of the same is that it is unsustainable.

“Current policy favouring established, comprehensive public universities with a research mission, under conditions of fixed pricing for their core business of domestic undergraduate education, promotes quantitative expansion at the risk of educational quality and at disproportionate cost for government. More diverse supply options are required and policy and financing needs to encourage their expansion. With a risk that a more differentiated system could involve barriers to student mobility particular incentives could be provided for non-university providers, private and public to offer sub-bachelor degree pathway programmes purposefully designed for student cohorts that have not been prepared well for higher education.”

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Bad to worse

Just when Rod Camm surely thought things could not get much worse for his Australian Council for Private Education and Training they did. Yesterday The Australian reported a for-profit training provider suggesting that if placed in administration it could sue students for fees the government has declined to pay on their behalf. Mr Camm made it plain that he thinks this is a very bad move, pointing out the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission  is taking action against the provider and stating, “ACPET does not support any action against students.” He probably cannot do anymore, but it isn’t going to undo this new damage to the industry’s reputation.

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