At last standards in higher education

Plus Peter Coaldrake sees the world as more than a source of students for Australia

Dedicated followers of failure

Yesterday was International Day for Failure, (#DayForFailure) “a new holiday to rethink and learn from failure.” But don’t admit to missing it – imagine being ostracised by all the successful failure rememberers.

ANU Sept 15

At long last, standards

Finally the Higher Education Standards, prepared by a panel chaired by Peter Shergold, are out of the bureaucracy and into parliament. They were a long time in development and a long time in approval (Canberra sources say the states were slow). Just about everybody interested has analysed the drafts so debate over their passage should, should, be painless. “Too often, the rules governing universities have focused on dictating what universities must do in their processes, rather than on what outcomes they deliver for students … Universities will be measured on how they are delivering students a quality experience, not filling out paperwork” Education Minister Birmingham says.

Last night Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson endorsed the standards; “as well as reducing the administrative burden on universities, the new Standards will allow them to better respond to changing student and community needs.   Universities Australia looks forward to working with both the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and the Panel over the next twelve months ahead of them taking effect.”

Out of silos in search of solutions

QUT’s Peter Coaldrake has convened not your average higher education policy conference, which does not feature familiar faces saying familiar things. Set in Singapore and jointly sponsored by the OECD and the republic’s government it looks as Asia as far more than a source of students for Australia. And while there are a few Australians speaking today and tomorrow, notably Uni Melbourne’s Glyn Davis, there are many more, from Israel and Asia, Spain and Singapore, Kazakhstan and Canada. Plus the occasional eminent iconoclast, notably market economist Tyler Cowen, and Alex Usher, the only Toronto based higher education analyst to study at Sydney’s Crows Nest Boys High. The conference runs today and tomorrow and that distant clanging sound you will hear will be policy people from across the world climbing out of their silos to discover how similar problems can generate different solutions.

Closed books

First Edith Cowan U installed sleeping pods in the library and now the University of Sydney is making in-demand books available via vending machine. “Why bother with a library at all,” one veteran asks. As study and scholarship goes ever-more digital this will surely have occurred to many university managers.

Enduring alarms

Following Monday’s phone threat of an attack at the University of New South Wales the university told students it was “business as usual,” first thing yesterday. “Staff and students should remain vigilant and alert, but not alarmed,” management advised. People laughed at the slogan when it featured in an 2002 Howard Government advertising, sorry public information, campaign but the art of great advertising endures.

There was a similar threat (same social media channel) made to the University of Tasmania yesterday, which responded with the same approach –cops on campus, continuing classes. By lunchtime Tasmanian police decided the threat was not genuine.

HES HECQN electronic banner 01-10-15

Foundations first

The theme of this year’s Melbourne Institute joint conference with The Australian is, the same as every year, on why we must start reforming government fast. While not big on laughs it is perhaps the most important gathering on the economic-doom-is-imminent circuit, one where only very serious policy players get guernseys. This year education portfolio minister Simon Birmingham is on the platform, not bad for a bloke who a year back was a parliamentary secretary overseeing rural water reform. He’s on with Bruce Chapman, Glyn Davis and Andrew Norton in a session on higher education chaired by Beth Webster. The conference theme, “Rebuilding foundations for reform” will suit “softly softly Simon” down to the ground. With fee deregulation off the agenda for over a year, at least, he is in the business of working from the bottom up.

Labor digs in

There was a minor Labor front bench shuffle yesterday, with Kim Carr staying in higher education. This confirms Labor will fight hard on the HE policy announced last month, (CMM September 22 and September 24). Senator Carr only has one setting, loud and clear. Labor will stick to dropping the government’s proposed 20 per cent cut, increase funding per head and Senator Carr talks of a higher education commission to advise the government on everything from undergraduate attrition to courses on offer. This will make it tricky for Senator Birmingham, who could not get into an election spend-a-thon and keep a straight face. CMM suspects that come the election softly softly Simon will campaign quietly quietly.

EU endorses (sort-of) open access

When the European Union starts advocating change to long established industries companies must know their business models are in trouble, it’s a rare interest group the EU does not want to subsidise. But this is what is occurring to the for-profit publishers, which charge up for scholarly journals, without paying authors and editors and which now cost far less to publish on-line than they used to produce in print. “Digital technologies inevitably have the same ground-breaking impact on scientific publishing as they have already had on the media, music, film and telecommunication industries,” says Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. Mr Moedas urges publishers to “adjust their business models to the realities of the 21st century.”

Netherlands minister for education and science Sander Dekker agrees, “results of publicly funded research must be available free of charge for everyone.” What makes this significant is that the Netherlands is in a position to up the pressure on publishers, taking over the EU chair next year.

This does not mean the for-profit fortress is about to fall. Mr Dekker supports gold open access, where universities pay for researchers to publish in journals, which are free to read – hardly a triumph for the commons. But it is a step towards green open access, where the taxpayer gets to read what they paid for, without having to pay for it to be published.

ANU Sep 15 3

Selective Singapore

The speech drafts public servants send up to Australian minister’s offices are, on a good day, pretty bad – certainly compared to an address on Monday by Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong at a Yale-National University of Singapore joint venture event. It’s a model of art, engaging, informative, authoritative. What is especially interesting is the way Prime Minister Lee embraced core outcomes of western university education, “critical thinking, appreciation for complexity, communications and leadership skills,” adapted for what he considers the local context. What PM Lee is looking for is “a system which we hope will combine the best of east and west, that takes the best of US liberal arts education from Yale, New Haven, adds NUS’ distinctive Asian and global strengths, adapts this mix to our different social and cultural contexts, and creates an experience which is more relevant to students from Singapore and Asia.”

Press reports have Mr Lee speaking more frankly about Yale adapting to Singapore’s circumstances, but if so this did not make it into the official text. Even so, it is certainly clear that the government is not completely keen on all that western ‘critical thinking’.

Another admission also interests CMM. Mr Lee referred to Singapore’s international partners in expanding and diversifying post secondary education, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Imperial College London. However there is no mention of James Cook U, which has had a Singapore campus since 2003.

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