Funding debate begins (again)

Barney Glover steps up and Glyn Davis argues change starts on campus

Glover’s tough task

Universities Australia president Barney Glover speaks at the National Press Club tomorrow. This is an immensely important speech, the first opportunity for the peak university body to set out what it wants in Simon “softly softly” Birmingham’s new deregulation debate, others will then outline the 117 different and contradictory things UA members want. All sorts of ideas were around over the weekend, opting out of the regulated system for some students or universities, tying fee hikes to student completions, giving low SES students in private higher and further education access to HECs.

We have been here before, notably a decade back when then education minister Brendan Nelson proposed partial deregulation of student fees, so that universities could charge a premium for in-demand courses with government loans available to fund the extra amount. It was a half-baked solution that did not address the overall issue of what universities needed more money for, and what it had to do with students, and we are still in the same place. As an especially astute analyst puts it; “the sector is at a crossroads similar to that in the Nelson Era– also called “Crossroads” – whereby I think holding the unified line on issues such as research funding and the future of the demand driven system will be impossible.

Even more than back then, the fundamental problem with any plan to allow universities to set their own student fees is that enough voters heard the Labor-Greens-NTEU warnings of “$100k degrees” and this makes deregulation of any kind a hard sell indeed.

Uni Melb cities

 

All-star cast

“Just want to see a film. Swinburne then Uni Melbourne adverts. Pursued by universities – first signs of paranoia?” IRU CEO Conor King via Twitter. Less paranoia, than the shape of things to come.

No new help with fees

A reader suggests that the University of Melbourne might have hoped that deregulation of student fees would lead to the existing cap on Fee Help loans increasing – it’s now $122 000. An increase in what students could borrow from Canberra would certainly make Melbourne’s Doctor of Medicine degree more affordable, it is now a snip at $257 000. Of the 350 med school places 260 are Commonwealth supported, leaving 90 for locals and internationals at full whack.

ANU Sept 15

Hold the front page

University of Newcastle supports World Mental Health Day initiatives in Ghana” reports Uni Newcastle (and nobody much else). However in newsier news the university also announces the United Nations will establish its 15th institute for training and research there. The new UNITAR will focus on disaster recovery and resilience.

Smart start to second deregulation debate

Glyn Davis’s speech at the Times Higher conference on Friday was light on for tocsins calling the academic elite to arms in defence of truth and beauty and bereft of warnings that federal funding is so deficient that it is debtors prison for deans. Instead, the University of Melbourne VC talked about ways universities can improve their administrations. Perhaps this puzzled those delegates who believe too much money for education is never enough but CMM doubts this will have bothered Professor Davis – they weren’t the audience for his address.

Instead, the VC seemed to speak to the people on campuses and in Canberra, in academic staff rooms and union soviets who will shape the second fee deregulation debate that Minister Birmingham announced on Thursday. And Professor Davis’s message was quite clear – universities must better manage the services that support teaching and research.

“Reforming service delivery on campus is the next great intellectual challenge for a scholarly community. It is in reality a focused version or intimation of a larger question: the question of how a scholarly community can best govern itself,” he said.

Professor Davis talked of how his university had managed administrative change, not suggesting it was easy, not denying it cost jobs – but pointing out Uni Melbourne had saved $80m for teaching and research.

“There is nothing ordained about university life that requires poor management systems. These are choices we impose on ourselves. They take time and energy away from the things that should matter – our students, research and engagement,” he said.

This was much more than motherhood, Professor Davis was setting the stage for the second deregulation debate, suggesting to university communities that if they want ordinary Australians to hand over more money, through taxes or student fees, they should efficiently manage what they are given. And while this was a speech about sharing services the vice chancellor meant it to have a larger purpose, that in all their functions universities are accountable, “how we answer each challenge – in research, in education, in engagement, in administration – will determine how we are judged as universities and systems, indeed as a sector, in years to come.”

Completion

Leave it to the locals

How wise of UNSW business dean Chris Styles to announce his own restructure team (CMM September 28) a week or so back, because now Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs has set up a university-wide strategy office to “to assist our faculties, schools and divisions in coordinating the range of programs and initiatives required to deliver the strategic plan.” The UNSW 2025 Strategy Office is charged with planning “how we will generate the additional funding required to achieve our objectives over the next 10 years.” The Circumlocution, sorry Strategy Office will be mainly staffed by UNSW people, although strategists from consultants PwC are there to help. CMM suspects the business school will tell them everything there is under control.

First focus then shape

Another business faculty on the go is at Western Sydney U where dean (and DVC) Scott Holmes tells staff; “we have refocused our outlook toward the future.” Part of the refocusing involves the faculty being “premier tenant” at WSU’s new Parramatta city campus for the 2017 academic year. This “will be the space where the school re-shapes its future, he says.” Presumably after the refocusing is finished.

ANU Sep 15 5

Cross Quiggin

UoQ ARC Laureate Fellow John Quiggin is a proper economist whose native language is differential equations but his English is pretty good when exercised by an issue. As he is now. Professor Quiggin considers the Australian Skills Quality Authority a waste of space having failed to regulate rorting among private VET providers. “ASQA’s performance makes the Queensland Greyhound Racing Board look good. “It needs to be scrapped and its functions turned over to a body with some real teeth and a willingness to defend the interests of students and the public purse. … A joint investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Auditor-General would be a good start,” he says.

He’s not real keen on the various university lobbies either, pointing to the present dispute over which universities should access research-training funds. “The VC groups claim to speak for universities, but exclude all but 40-odd of the people who work and study in them. In the present case, wouldn’t the perspectives of research students and the academics who supervise them be more useful than those of VCs and administrators? … we need to replace Universities Australia with a body that represents students and staff as well as top management.”

What, like the student associations and the National Tertiary Education Union?

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