ANU’s terrific long tail

Plus Sydney’s Inspired! beats Melbourne’s Believe!

No end to Gago gutser

It just keeps getting worse for SA Skills Minister Gail Gago. Her plan to give TAFE 90 per cent of major training programme places for 2016 has been bucketed for a fortnight by local non government trainers, the federal government and on Adelaide radio. Last night the local edition of the Seven Network’s Today Tonight asked, “will this be a massive government blunder?” The question sounded rhetorical.

Building boom

Australia has dedicated accommodation for 75 000 students, with another 19 000 places expected by 2018, according to a new national survey. And 44 per cent of residents are international students. The survey comes from University Colleges Australia and is the first comprehensive count for 15 years.

Across the 313 surveyed sites universities own and/or manage 47 per cent of the beds with private providers running 35 per cent. The balance of the business belongs to churches and charities. Commercial providers operating mainly in Sydney and Melbourne are expected to provide 48 per cent of projected growth to 2018.

Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra are the top three locations reflected in the first ten postcodes for student accommodation as follows; Acton (ANU), Carlton (U Melb), Burwood (Deakin), St Lucia (UoQ), Kensington (UNSW), Adelaide (UoA, UniSA), Parkville (UoM), Crawley (UWA), and Monash U.

Demonstrating their deep pockets, high demand and established infrastructure, Group of Eight universities account for 44 per cent of beds.

But the industry needs to do more than provide rooms to compete in the international market. The report urges the accommodation industry to; “maintain and improve its focus on assisting with or enhancing the broader student experience (including) engagement with the host university, social infrastructure, pastoral and academic support.”

ANU new 2

Harding at the helm

Sandra Harding will continue as James Cook U vice chancellor for another six year term, meaning she will be in charge for the university’s 50th anniversary in 2020. Professor Harding became VC in 2007. Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane all but immediately followed the university’s announcement yesterday with news she will also serve a second five-year term on the council of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which, like JCU, is Townsville based.

Course content is king

When university leaders mention productivity union officials reach for the enterprise agreement clause about consultation, assuming more work and less staff are on the way. But ANU’s Marnie Hughes-Warrington has a less painful idea – run the university’s intellectual resources harder.

The university’s DVC Academic has taken a long tail look at the backlist, the mass of courses that may not attract many students by themselves but will increase student numbers in combination with other programmes. ANU has done this successfully for three years, she says. “Our long tail niche degrees are attracting more enrolments and our overall enrolments are up. Bestsellers are still bestsellers, but the long tail is getting fatter. Degrees that we talked about closing have been given a new lease of life. Close to 42 per cent of students at ANU are now in double degrees, and that growth looks set to continue.”

Her message is as intriguing as it is optimistic. “For too long, we have thought about degrees from the point of view of particular, known employment outcomes they lead to. It is also possible to think about degrees as creating employment opportunities and vocational and avocational combinations that we have not even thought about yet … I think that we have not as yet got the measure of the long tail on a macroeconomic scale or as a potential force for social change.”

But what happens when the long tail extends across the world, when universities start offering individual subjects, rather than degrees? Students will start to expect to be able to customise programs across national as well as institutional boundaries is what. As University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker put it in 2012 “The university will be fundamentally organised around student-centred principles. Students will want education a la carte: education when they want it, how they want it, where they want it.”

With digital storage and delivery the same law that shapes journalism will apply to higher education, content will be king. ANU will rule if its courses sell on quality and content.

Donors are history

University of Sydney VC Michael Spence is very pleased that the university’s Inspired funding raising campaign has just topped $500m. “As the first university in Australia to attract this level of philanthropic support, we are proud of the trust that our donors have shown in us,” he writes to supporters. Everybody got that – Sydney is first. This is important to Dr Spence, he made it plain in launching his undergraduate degree reforms early this week that he does not like UoS being second in status to the University of Melbourne.

And ahead Sydney certainly is. Uni Melbourne’s, Believe campaign is not projected to reach half a billion dollars for another two years.

So good on Sydney. But what possessed the university to title the supporter message “You’re part of history,”? Surely donors think they might matter in the present, even the future – if only so they can be Inspired to write more cheques.

Impacted bottom line

The University of New South Wales Business School has a new MBA, in social impact. Designed for not-for-profits and people in private sector “social impact roles” it will show students how to “understand the dynamics of the social economy.” At $50 000 CMM suspects fewer not for profit staff than people on big private and public sector payrolls will sign up.

All politics is local

University of Newcastle VC Caroline McMillen makes much of the institution’s local mission, “we are working to realise our vision to deliver world-class education, research and innovation that supports the development of strong regional communities,” her website welcome states. But it seems not everybody in the university’s catchment got the memo, because there is a local government push on the NSW central coast for an independent university there. (Joanne McCarthy from the Newcastle Herald broke the yarn).

The university responded yesterday with a statement that the independence movement was news to it, that Uni Newcastle had invested and would keep investing in the region and that it is exploring more courses for its central coast campus at Ourimbah. Sounds like university management is late getting the word out.

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