Plus why lads lead in the lab and first step to saving VET
The University of Queensland medicine faculty is celebrating RU OK? day with a sausage sizzle. Nothing says serenity like a snag.
Less impressive than it looks
Paul Koshy and Richard Seymour from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University report new data that demonstrate how extraordinarily Australian higher education enrolments have changed, without changing much at all.
Between 2007 and 2014 domestic undergraduate enrolments at publicly funded (Category A) institutions grew by 31 per cent, ranging from 16 per cent for Group of Eight members through 32 per cent for the Regional Universities Network to 50 per cent for institutions not aligned with any of the major lobby groups.
Overall growth among disadvantaged groups is equally impressive, low SES is up 45 per cent, the number of students with a disability grew by 73 per cent, indigenous enrolments rose 59 per cent, while regional (30 per cent) and remote (16 per cent) students also grew strongly. Although, the number of women in what are officially defined as “non traditional” areas (STEM, ag science, and business for example) rose strongly overall, growth faltered last year, bringing the increase back to 20 per cent.
However the overall proportion of equity groups in the total student population did not increase significantly. Low SES students rose from 16.2 per cent in 2007 to 17.9 per cent in 2014. Comparable figures for students with a disability were 4.4 per cent to 5.8 per cent, for indigenous students it was even less, 1.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent and the overall proportion of regional students in the national mix went backwards from 19.1 per cent to 18.9 per cent.
For the large low SES group the pattern of enrolments by university interest group is marked, as Koshy and Seymour report.
“The Group of Eight has seen its share of low SES undergraduate enrolment increase from 10.1% in 2007 to 11.0% in 2014; the ATN Group, 14.5% to 16.4% over a similar period, with other groupings with historically higher shares seeing growth as well. Regional-based universities have higher rates of low SES enrolment than metropolitan institutions, with regionally headquartered universities seeing 28.6% of their students coming from low SES backgrounds in 2014 compared with 14.9% among those metropolitan institutions without regional campuses. The Group of Eight has seen its share of low SES undergraduate enrolment increase from 10.1% in 2007 to 11.0% in 2014; the ATN Group, 14.5% to 16.4% over a similar period, with other groupings with historically higher shares seeing growth as well. Regional-based universities have higher rates of low SES enrolment than metropolitan institutions, with regionally headquartered universities seeing 28.6% of their students coming from low SES backgrounds in 2014 compared with 14.9% among those metropolitan institutions without regional campuses.”
Why lads lead in the lab
For all the successful work over 20 years to increase the number of female research scientists there is a generational repeat as women leave labs after postdoctoral work and men continue to lead the national research effort. A major new L H Martin Institute study of women in biology and chemistry led by Sharon Bell and Lyn Yates suggests that this “wicked policy problem” needs an alternative career model to that of the stakhanovite scientist, “whose life circumstances enable them to engage in the continuous accumulation of academic and social capital.” This obvious excludes all the women whose families take them out of the lab for years at a time.
There is a mass of achievable change if policy makers are prepared to vary funding arrangements and ignore those who benefit from the status quo. For example, while the authors recommend five rather than three year fixed contracts, which would “accommodate the pressures that accumulate with family formation,” surely this would mean fewer contracts to go round. However the core issues are cultural, alienating competitive workplaces and “the persistence of tacit, rather than explicit gendered organisational cultures and systems that in small but cumulative ways disadvantage many women, whilst simultaneously advantaging many men.”
Counted, not saved
Thanks to Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities group for pointing out the Parliamentary Budget Office’s projected impact of unlegislated measures in the 2014-15 budget. Savings not realised include $3bn plus from the 2013 Labor efficiency dividend well over $7bn from HECS not hiked through to 2025-26.
Chris Pyne has done a great job for education faculties. By pushing for graduate assessments and requiring them to account for the quality of their courses he has defused debate on whether they should only accept commencing students with alpha ATARS. But the education minister’s focus on process and outcomes still leaves entry open. So good for the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education for convening a discussion on “what is a ‘sophisticated’ approach to teacher educating.” CMM is puzzled by ‘sophisticated’ – are the quote marks meant to mark irony? – but otherwise understands the event’s importance, which will cover the grad school’s TeacherSelector. This is “a tool that supports selection and assesses a range of cognitive, behavioural and motivational characteristics using online assessments and questionnaires.” It certainly is an improvement on universities working out how many teaching students are needed to break even and accordingly enrolling that number. The meeting is 5-7pm at UoM on September 22, details here.
Slip sliding away
A US publisher has a contest for the most content cluttered teaching slides to promote Eric Bergman’s, 5 steps to conquer death by powerpoint. The book’s foreword is by famous foe of the powerpoint, UNSW educational psychologist John Sweller, who demonstrated a decade back that people do not easily acquire information by simultaneously reading and listening. This is proved on the slide CMM will not show you.
Low, or no value VET
The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research has handed out a bunch of research grants, including one to lead researcher Jenny Gore from the University of Newcastle. Professor Gore’s team will consider, “the formation of VET aspirations.”
This is one to watch, the grim truth is that Australian families now want their children to go to university, not to training. New numbers from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children show 56 per cent of mothers with sons below year 12 ages expect them to go to university. The figure for their daughters is 71 per cent. (CMM August 25). “This analysis is particularly critical given the current state of flux of the VET sector (it) will provide unique insight into the formation of VET among school students and into students’ parents and teachers’ understandings of VET processes,” Professor Gore says.
For training to be a second, or no choice, is ridiculous but it does appear to demonstrate how badly the VET system has failed in explaining what it does, why it matters and how it can be the basis of a practical, profitable working life. Identifying why, or why not, people enter the VET system is an important start to fixing the problem.
UTS categorically rules out making the summer semester compulsory (CMM July 30) and nobody will lose their full time student status for not studying then. But the rumours roll on, to the extent that the university has released an video Q&A explaining the advantages of doing an extra subject(s) and the no disadvantages of not. It all seems straightforward, so why are UTS student taking some convincing?
Grain RDC goes on
The rumour mill was grinding hard yesterday with speculation that the Grains Research and Development Corporation was shedding staff fast, from the top down, with CEO John Harvey leaving. Ag schools were also agitated about what it meant for research funding. It all dates from the upset over Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce thinking that rural R&D corporations should be near farmers, rather than, in the case of the GRDC, bureaucrats, based as it is near Treasury in inner city Canberra. However yesterday a spokesperson said that while an unspecified number of people will go as the organisation devolves staff to new regional centres all will be well under a new operating plan. And chief executive John Harvey has had his contract extended until June. The new regional offices will be in Toowoomba and Dubbo for eastern Australia and ultimately in Northam for WA. The SA office will initially be in Adelaide before moving to the ag and vet hub at Roseworthy.
Dolt of the day
Is CMM. Yesterday’s edition referred to the NTEU’s Terri MacDonald as Terry.