Economists warn: no China boom for Aus education

Plus budget efficiency dividend will not die and degrees that depend on international students

Hot sun, cold cash

CMM ran Queensland VCs salaries the other day, which range from around $580 000 to $1m plus. It  turns out the worse paid of them makes more money than the highest paid VC in Quebec, who earns about A$450 000. How they pay their heating bills is a mystery. (Thanks to Alex Usher for the lead.)

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Corker of a conference

The three South Australian universities host the Quality in Postgraduate Research conference today and tomorrow. It’s a bit of bad luck that the ACOLA report on research training was only released last week, too late to be considered in depth but there is a paper on its process. The conference is on at the National Wine Centre but CMM would never make a cheap joke about delegates needing a drink.

Poll predictions of the day

Kate Crowley from the University of Tasmania (via the ABC) says not only will Jacqui Lambie likely win a quota in a double dissolution poll but she “might” even get a second candidate up. Now that is something to look forward to.

In other matters vandemonian senator for the state and minister for tourism and international education Richard Colbeck broke cover yesterday to announce the Endeavour Scholarships for 2017. The minister’s long-awaited international education strategy was expected about now but there is no sign of it. Cynics suggest that having been relegated to the all but unwinnable fifth spot on the Liberal senate ticket for Senator Colbeck’s mind is on other issues.

Bare cheeked face

Students who want universities to sell their fossil fuel shares had mixed success in protests on Monday. At UNSW a scheduled meeting with Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs did not happen after students occupied the university’s council chambers. “That action crossed the boundary of acceptable expression of views and the meeting could not proceed under those circumstances. This is unfortunate as members of the UNSW senior team and myself were looking forward to a considered discussion.”

However at the University of Queensland a chancellery sit-in led to a briefing on the university’s investment portfolio by Chief Operating Officer Greg Pringle, preparatory for a meeting with VC Peter Hoj in early May. A paper prepared by students on why UoQ should be fossil investment free will also go to the June meeting of Senate.

CMM wonders what Professor Jacobs what would have thought if sit-in students had lined up naked with a statement spelt out on their bums, as occurred at the University of Melbourne.

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If you teach it they will come

As Deakin University staff pack the silverware preparatory to abandoning the Warrnambool campus, across the border at Mount Gambier the University of South Australia is welcoming students. Yesterday UniSA opened a new teaching centre for nursing, early childhood education and social work. So why is higher education in southeast SA viable when Deakin can’t attract students from, and to, the country? Perhaps it’s a case of if you teach what people want to study they will come. Mount Gambier, which no one ever has mistaken for West 3rd Street in Manhattan, is also home to Uni SA’s James Morrison jazz academy which attracts cats from all over.

Efficiency dividends not dead 

Yesterday CMM suggested with parliament prorogued all bills are void, which led to the question what the government was going to do about the 2014 and 2015 efficiency dividends deducted via a 2013 bill that is still stuck in the Senate. The National Tertiary Education Union asks the same question, just with more vim. “The government’s weak justification for implementing these unlegislated savings measures no longer exists. The minister for education should instruct his department to forward these vital payments to our universities as matter of urgency.”

Sadly for the comrades and CMM, a (very) learned reader points out that we are not entirely right.

“Both houses have provisions in their standing orders to reinstate business that lapses as a result of a prorogation, provided that an election hasn’t taken place. Bills are reinstated at the same stage that they had reached prior to the prorogation. All that is required is a resolution of the house (and in some cases a resolution of the other house if the bill originated in that house).”

So, the bills could still go to Senate vote in the budget sitting – but if you think this is going to happen CMM has a bridge in Sydney you might like to buy.

Same tracks

The University of Sydney has lost its fight to have its own station on the proposed cross-harbour metro line but this isn’t stopping Western Sydney University, which a reader says is lobbying for a stop on the same line, just way further southwest. CMM cannot begin to imagine the conniptions at UniSydney if the other Sydney Uni (what a difference a w makes) wins.

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Too big biz

TEQSA has released a report detailing aggregate higher education performance. This is a convenient source of stats for people who win arguments in pubs over questions like the discipline area with the highest proportion of students from overseas.* But close to everything enumerated, from total UG enrolments (986 000 EFTs in 2014) to total higher education revenue ($34bn) to where they study (92 per cent at universities) is published by the Department of Education and Training. And DET breaks down figures by institutions, which the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency does not do (CMM April 4).

There is, however, one set of numbers that never ceases to signal danger for higher education no matter how often they appear – dependence on business courses. There are close to 250 000 business students, 50 000 more than the next largest class of courses, “society and culture.” Some 25 per cent of enrolments in business are international students. And providers are investing in business, with management and commerce accounting for 30 per cent of all new courses TEQSA approved in 2014. So here’s a question to ask in the pub – what happens to higher education if the market turns suddenly away from studying business, or starts looking at VET courses or MOOCs. What happens is one or two universities CMM can think of go broke fast.

*It’s IT where barely 20 per cent of higher education students are locals, yes CMM is surprised too.

No China boom for education

What do you call an economist who worries about the opportunity cost of a licence to print money? Normal. While the China mining boom is over optimists are talking up sales of services there, including education, there. But not economists. The Economics Association of Australia asked a panel of members whether services sold to China will create a second boom, sorry “Chinese economic windfall” and the general view was nothing doing, including for for education

“We might also sell more visas to the Chinese (via low-grade university education) than before, but I think we are already selling those at a very high rate. Also, we are slowly waking up to the negative effects on our own university quality and governance, so I don’t see much additional growth potential there,” says Paul Fritjers from UofQ.

According to his colleague Flavio Menezes “While three companies (BHP and Rio Tinto in Australia and Vale in Brazil account for more than 60 per cent of the exports to China, the market for services is much more competitive. Australian universities, pharmaceutical companies, hotels and tourism operators have a small market share of a competitive worldwide market.”

Even the optimists were cautious, as Gigi Foster from UNSW put it; “Our educational exports are likely to remain strong for some time, but Chinese universities are developing quickly and over time a larger share of the best Chinese students will be educated in China.”

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