Ratings on the slide: Obama and the EU rank universities

“Stick ‘em up, I’ve got a fish!”

From CMM’s “oh please!” desk. University of Wollongong scientists are studying a link between crime and Omega3 (found in seafood) deficient diets. Our “you realise what this means,” correspondent comments “fishmongers in the Illawarra should take precautions against self-medicating robbers”.

 What do we want? Government subsidies!

And when pharmacy students want them is now. If you think student protestors are all focused on saving the planet and opening the borders to refugees you have to start taking your realism medication. University of Sydney and UTS pharmacy students took to the streets last week, protesting over less government funding. Not reductions in education funding mind, but a drop in the price Canberra pays manufacturers for drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which translates into lower earning for retail chemists. The Pharmacy Guild is celebrated among industry lobbies for an ability to bend ministers to its steely will – chemists are liked in the community and campaigns warning the government wants to send them broke work well. It seems future pharmacists learn fast.

 Candidate of the day

Helen Fairweather, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering at the University of the Sunshine Coast is the (what a surprise) Greens candidate for Longman. “For many people, the struggle they face on a daily basis, makes it difficult for them to spend the time and energy looking after the bigger picture – this is what they expect of their elected representatives,” she says. Only a cynic would suggest Dr Fairweather believes she should do the thinking for people too distracted to think for themselves.  She is also making local news for her campaign commitment to ban crab and crayfish pots in freshwater creeks lest they drown platypus.

Who is writing Obama’s speeches, Kim Carr?

It sounds like it from the president’s plan for central planning in higher education. Mr Obama has run hard on the cost of college for a couple of years and he escalated the argument on Friday in a  three point plan. Much of it focused on the existing Kafka-cash student loan system, (they need Bruce Chapman to put a HECs on it, sorry). But what intrigued CMM was the proposal to link funding to performance metrics including, as the president put it; “How much debt does the average student leave with?  How easy it is to pay off?  How many students graduate on time?  How well do those graduates do in the workforce? “
Mr Obama also specifically signalled that his plan was preferable to the commercial rankings, repudiating (indeed implicitly rebuking) the source code of all league tables, US News and World Report. As the president said; “it encourages a lot of colleges to focus on ways to – how do we game the numbers, and it actually rewards them, in some cases, for raising costs.  I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity.  Are they helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed – (applause) – and on outcomes, on their value to students and parents. ” Mr Obama also applauded universities that made it easier for students to finish faster, including endorsing something that sounds suspiciously like competencies, “if you’re learning the material faster, you can finish faster.”
And he wants the world to know how universities perform on his preferred measures, tasking Education Secretary Arne Duncan to: “develop a new ratings system before the 2015 college year.” And won’t the higher education establishment love this – not. Standby for all the usual arguments that ratings are anomalous, unfair and encourage competition – which CMM suspects is the president’s point. The best bit is Mr Obama’s promise to tie public funding to performance on his measures. Can you imagine the howls if Canberra tied money to student outcomes?

Student recruitment

“Fun at open day! Come to get a kiss off Jerry/library tour off Brendan!” Deakin University instamagrammed on Open Day on Sunday. CMM hopes they did not Jerry and Brendan’s roles mixed up.

 ‘Triffic at Toowoomba

Jan Thomas is having a good run. The University of Southern Queensland VC is newly appointed to the governing council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (as in of nations). Things are also good at home as well as away. Professor Thomas recently described the university as being in good financial shape. CMM is sure the local National Tertiary Education Union branch will congratulate here on the first and then mention the latter at the next enterprise bargaining meeting.

Predictions of the morning

Tony McCall from the University of Tasmania (@ The Conversation) calls Bass and Braddon for the Liberals. “There is a persistent, deep-seated level of overlapping dissatisfaction with state and federal minority governments in these northern electorates.” That will do it every time.
As to Griffith, (electorate and university both) political scientist Paul Williams suggested the prime minister losing his seat is possible not probable. Before making a solid case in the Brisbane Times as to how it could happen. ‘I suspect it’s almost like the John Howard phenomenon repeated … where the electorate is thinking, ‘we don’t want to go to a by-election, we’ll just vote LNP now.’ I suspect that’s got something to do with it too – they know Labor’s going to lose, so what’s the point in re-electing Kevin Rudd if he’s not going to hang around.”

Real rankings

As if having the president of the United States on your case is not bad enough, the league table merchants have a new competitor with a clear comparative advantage. The European Union has launched  U-Map, part of the U-Multirank product. This enormous exercise started in 2009 and addresses the core complaint against commercial ratings agencies that rank universities according to one score, based on weighted measures of all sorts of data. They compare academic apples against university oranges, critics say. U-Map groups universities on the basis of their function, while Multirank will compare institutions’ (and increasingly disciplines) performance against their peers. At this stage U-Map is not much use to anybody interested in Australia, what with the way RMIT is the only institution measured, however comparing performance of international universities provides fascinating and directly comparable data. It’s all immensely complicated and is already upsetting universities, which are upset about arcana in the methodology. Still if it does not collapse under its own bureaucratic burden it will be a great guide.
Will it replace the various league tables? Not a chance – there is way too much data to use as advertising but the product will help universities with planning and provide direct comparisons of how they are going against competitors and comparators.

No accounting for UNSW

A reader points out that CMM stuffed last week, wrongly reporting that the University of NSW has AASCB accreditation in business and accounting. It only has the former.

 

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