Gift wrapped recommendations

Everybody wants more demand driven funding (except Adelaide lawyers)

More of the same please

The Regional Universities Network sticks up for the status quo in its submission to the Kemp-Norton review of demand driven funding. It argues that the system is working, that there is no evidence of falling standards as less academically qualified students start to study. As for the growth in cost, well it may, or may not be real. “However, if real, concerns from some quarters that the demand driven system is driving unsustainable growth may prove groundless.” So that’s all right then. Not really but it demonstrates RUNs determination to hold the high ground – while the submission addresses the various issues on which the review requests advice, RUN makes it plain that their constituencies have a right to equality of access to education as students in the city enjoy – what this costs is not its members’ problem.
What is a problem for government is the way RUN extends the position it adopts to demand more money for increased access to sub degree and professional masters programs. “RUN considers that more needs to be done to increase the number of students studying a range of disciplines in regional areas. The current inflexibility regarding the allocation of sub-bachelor and post-graduate places remains a major impediment to allowing universities to respond to the needs of their students, regional communities and other stakeholder groups.” And this after a major injection of federal funding last month! RUN also says it is happy to help Canberra work out ways to spend up on demand driven funding for sub-degree and postgraduate places. I bet it is.

Moodie blues

With cold that is. Long time policy analyst Gavin Moodie has moved to Toronto, accompanying his partner Leesa Wheelahan who has taken a chair at the University of Toronto. I wonder if Mr Moodie will continue to comment on Australian higher education, but at a distance.

Big but understated idea

Unlike RUN, there is more to the Innovative Research Universities submission to Kemp-Norton than a suggestion that Canberra keep sending cheques. Instead the IRU thinks students should chip in as well. For a start it recommends a hike in HECS, so that everybody pays the $9700 maximum that now only applies to law, accounting, dentistry, medicine and economics. And it also wants to partially deregulate fees, allowing each university to charge whatever fees they like in one major discipline group with students coughing up for anything over the HECs ceiling.
In general it is a realistic document that makes a strong case for demand driven funding expanding access to university but which also accepts that paying for all the places may not be easy. Thus it calls for a formula to allocate funded postgraduate places (for professional qualification) with universities allowed to distribute their share as they see fit. “In all professions, beyond the clergy, a degree program has become the expectation over the past one hundred and fifty years, superseding previous apprenticeship models. However, it is important that professional bodies do not force such changes through relying on Government funded places to support them,” the IRU argues.
It is all sensible stuff, although it seems strange that the boldest argument, discipline deregulation of fees is supported with what seem least conviction.
“The opting out would apply to all students in that discipline area, requiring the university to make a considered decision about each program area. It would avoid the murky outcome of previous undergraduate fee paying arrangements where Australian students would pay different amounts yet receive the same education. In proposing this option the IRU assumes that the majority of universities, including IRU members, teaching particular disciplines would continue to do so under current arrangements. Australians would continue to be able to access good quality higher education in all fields in their State.” Which is precisely what would not happen – as management poured resources into flagships and used other low cost subjects as cash cows to grow their stars.
Whatever – the IRU submission deserves a debate – which a week before Christmas I am guessing is the very thing it will not get.

Reform ignored

Perhaps everybody thought the AFR’s story on Monday that Canberra will take over regulation of NSW universities from the state was too good to be true. Because this excellent example of over-regulation was all but ignored yesterday. Apart from coverage in the Fin and a query on the cost of Canberra taking responsibility for superannuation just about the only comment from industry groups came from the National Tertiary Education Union. According to federal president Jeannie Rea shared state and federal responsibilities “provides positive tension.” As a positive description of bureaucratic double-handling this is hard to beat.

Lots and lots of lawyers

Not everybody is happy with demand driven funding – the South Australian Law Society’s submission to Kemp-Norton argues universities are pumping out graduates who have buckleys of finding work. In South Australia there are 600 graduates a year for 150 jobs. “The society is very concerned that the number of graduates far outweighs the available jobs. As time passes, new graduates are competing with past years’ graduates, creating an ever increasing pool of law graduates unable to fully participate. The reality is that even high achieving students with diverse experience will struggle to find a job in the legal sector.’
Not all members think this is a problem. Some say the market will sort everything out others argue the more competing lawyers the higher the profession’s standards and the Association certainly does not call for a cap. No, what it wants is an inquiry; “an inquiry or parliamentary committee could be established for the purpose of considering issues of quantity of law students, quality of teaching and the mental health and wellbeing of law students in particular.”  Yep, that will fix it.

If you’ve got them flaunt them

There was not much elitism around yesterday as universities assured school leavers that they are not defined by their ATARs and that even with a crook score options are open. It goes to show how ingrained is the idea that school marks are no indicator of university performance and that everybody is above average, just in different ways.  Although there a sense of unseemly enthusiasm in the way a couple of institutions who need the money demand driven funding can provide urged the disappointed to contact them. But there was none of this at the University of Melbourne where elitism, red in tooth and claw, prevailed. “Sixty-eight of Victoria’s highest achieving VCE students have accepted National Scholarships to study at Australia’s number one university,” Melbourne modestly mentioned yesterday. The successful students receive a HECS exempt place plus a $5000 per annum allowance (twice that if they relocate from interstate). Did the university mention all the successful students had ATARs or equivalent of 99.9? Or that Melbourne rates number in Australia and 34th in the world according to the Times Higher rankings?

Vann builds a brand

Slowly and subtly Charles Sturt University’s Andy Vann is building a health education empire in the bush. The first CSU dentistry class graduates in Orange today while the university is installing two medical imaging laboratories in Port Macquarie, where it teaches a range of para medicine and health science degrees. I suspect it is all part of Professor Vann’s plan to make CSU commitment to country-people’s health so obvious that governments will just give in and allow him to set up his proposed Murray-Darling medical school. Granted this will not happen without a fight from existing providers of medical education in the bush. Every now and again the University of New South Wales makes an irritated announcement of the services it provides but I doubt this bothers Professor Vann who is playing a long game of brand building.

No need to advertise

It’s not just strategic planning that impresses at Charles Sturt – have a look at this sales promotion. An incentive to enrol in an IT masters is a free online course to qualify as an EC-Council Network Security Administrator. No, I have no idea what it means but it seems certification is worth having – especially when the five weeks of webinars and study texts are all provided free. I have written about CSU’s IT sales strategy before and probably will again. As a way of establishing the university’s brand and building a relationship with potential fee paying masters students this is hard, probably impossible to beat.

That you Santa Clause?

I claim the sighting of the first self-promoting Santa-sighted story of the season. The hero or villain (depending on where you rate on the Marley Misanthropy Measure) is the Centre for Intelligent Systems Research at Deakin University. The CISR uses the Santa toy-run trope (unless it is a meme, or not) to promote a flight trainer, the Haptically-Enabled Universal Motion Simulator (UMS). The device has a seat on an arm attached to a rotating pillar so trainee pilots can throw themselves over, under, upside down quite dramatically, mimicking flying an aircraft, badly. It looks like a lot of fun. Just like it looked last Christmas and the Christmas before, when CISR used the same promotion. It’s the traditions that make Christmas special.

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