Annoyed Nick is a problem for Pyne

Plus the Go8 bemoans the cost of keeping up the estate

Job generating ANU

The Australian National University leads the country in the new Global University Employability ranking compiled by Franco-German partnership Emerging-Trendence. ANU is 24th in the world, down three places on 2013. It leads Monash, unchanged at 33, UNSW which is up seven spots to 48 and Uni Melbourne, down 15 to 65. The University of Auckland, unplaced last year makes, the cut, just, at 150th.

Cambridge is number one in the world followed by Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Caltech, MIT and Stanford, TU Munchen, Princeton and the University of Tokyo make up the top ten. In the Asia Pacific, Hong Kong University of Science, Beijing University and the Indian University of Science are all in front of ANU. There are 41 US institutions on the list and 12 from the UK.

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The survey is based on perceptions of universities held by 4500 recruiters across 20 countries. In an alarming finding for universities who use job-ready graduates as a core brand benefit, Australia rated 8th out of ten countries for producing immediately employable students, trailing the US, which is best regarded by a factor of five.

Is this objective? Not for a bet, but when it comes to assessing candidates impressions count.

Teaching aids

Yesterday’s Office of Learning and Teaching $5.8m research grant announcements were heavy on issues that would be important to students in a competitive market. Funny that. Like a Bond University project on the experience of coursework masters students, “a demographic that was previously sparsely populated and research-focussed.” A team that involves just about every university with a regional headquarters will look at how to achieve “equitable outcomes” for rural and regional undergraduates. And Hamish Coates, who built last year’s superb 100,000 recipient student experience survey will lead a team developing new data based measures of undergraduate satisfaction.

QUT cleaned up in the OLT Innovation Grants, also announced yesterday, with four projects. The University of Tasmania followed with three, from the University of Adelaide with two. Another 11 universities were awarded one each

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 Muffled gongs

The Office of Learning and Teaching also held its awards at Parliament House last night, but for their own reasons did not want anybody outside the club knowing about it. Still, it’s good to be able to congratulate winners including Curtin’s Marian Kickett, Michael Curtin, Kay Skinner and Kristy Robson from Charles Sturt, and Griffith’s tertiary participation for Pasifika background students programme team.

Giving the game away

Father of HECs Bruce Chapman is worried people might think he supports deregulation – and that would never do. So he wrote to The Australian to explain what he really meant when interviewed by Paul Kelly for last Saturday’s paper. While acknowledging Kelly’s reporting was accurate, Professor Chapman says he supports price caps on fees but not allowing universities to set what they like, thanks to HECs. “This means ‘deregulation’ effectively gives the universities great power to charge much more than what could be considered to be fair — for example, much more than the actual teaching costs,” he says. Ye gods is the man mad? Imagine what would happen if undergrads en masse ever discovered that many people in universities see them as a revenue stream to fund research.

Wrong bloke to annoy

Senator Nick Xenophon has written to the Auditor General asking him to investigate Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s “deregulation is good for you” campaign. The senator specifies all sorts of reason why the advertising is out of order under Department of Finance June guidelines on government information and advertising. But the bit that will bite is his statement of the obvious; “the government proposed reforms are not law. In fact they were rejected by the Senate last week. My submission to you is that in the absence of passage of the legislation, the advertising campaign is essentially promoting a party political view.” This is orthodox outrage, invoked by opposition and crossbench members and senators whenever governments pull this sort of stunt, and they all do. But while the benefits for government from getting the message out normally might exceed the political noise perhaps not in this case. Senator Xenophon voted against deregulation last week and while he hinted he might change his mind in the New Year that isn’t guaranteed. Especially if he is as annoyed as he is unconvinced. This isn’t good for the government – Senator Xenophon is a policy grown-up, one who key senators like Ricky Muir, John Maddigan and perhaps Zhenya Wang will look to when Deregulation MkII is in the Senate. Annoying Nick is not a good place to start to build a majority.

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Desirable residences

The Group of Eight research universities has gone to a deal of trouble to demonstrate that “space required for research and specialist teaching commitments is twice as costly to operate and requires about three times as much energy compared to all other space on campus.” And the Eight, being the group it is, provides all sorts of evidence to make its case. While Go8 members are on or below the national average for all university building operating costs their expenditure is increased by their service and equipment intensive space, which is way more expensive, ranging from just under $80 per square metre at Monash to $130 at the University of Adelaide, just ahead of UNSW and UWA at around $125. Good-oh, but what’s the point? No prizes for guessing the data is intended to show that while the Eight hoover up most public sector research spending this does not mean they have money to spare. Thus the survey warns against “the inherent risk in using broad averages (i.e. infrastructure survey sector averages), and to some extent campus averages, which can mask costs of specialist infrastructure maintained across the Go8 Universities.” It’s not easy being rich.

Resignation, reformation rage

That Margaret Thornton is not happy with the state of higher education now and fears for its future is clear in her new essay on law schools (CMM December 8). There is much more of the same in Through a glass darkly: the social sciences look at the neo-liberal university, a new collection of essays she has edited for the ANU Press. There is a great deal of handwringing about how awful markets, mandarins and managers are in some of the essays but there is also a range of opinions on the way things, were, are and will be. They include the resigned, “without inviting fatalism, the moral to be drawn from this might be that the corruption of learning is always with us, throughout the ages, the only change over time being the ebb and flow of its tide” (Tony Aspromorgous). And the reforming. Thus ANU economist and former head of Universities Australia, Glen Whithers writes; “there is still serious scope for better management consistent with the purpose of the university. First, reducing diversion of internal resources to uncreative and unsupportive administration; secondly, better institutionalisation of peer review of academic affairs…; thirdly, proper respect for staff and student voice in university affairs; and fourthly, improving university integrity codes to ensure conflicts of interest and breaches of research protocols are prevented or dealt with openly and honestly”.

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Then there is rage. While Jane Kenway, Rebecca Boden and Johanna Fahey suggest change can come from the bottom up, via students, they are not enormously optimistic about their peers. “We see the neoliberal university as, in many ways, a paranoid, defensive institution that has lost ‘the capacity to distribute hope’ to many of its staff and students. In so doing, it may have fatally undermined our capacity to contribute to the redistribution of hope more broadly – to fulfil the broader social function of the university. … Audacity is in short supply, but cynicism, fear and even hostility and despair are not.”

 

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