Group of Eight nominates the research and education priorities that are right for Australia

Hoj’s way on the policy highway

plus Bright dawn: Freshwater to be UWA VC

Demand driven funding has not increased attrition but a third of students do not complete

and Vann’s still the man at Charles Sturt U 

Piping hot not

A learned reader points to Deakin U law school, which is running a recruitment campaign emphasising all the fun things students can do. “It’s no secret that extra-curricular activities are a great addition to a resume … and just think how your CV will stand out from the crowd if you can include ‘sky-diving’, ‘camel racing’ or ‘bagpiping’ as a hobby!,” Deakin suggests. Given employment rates for law grads, perhaps barista on a resume is preferable to piper.

Bright dawn in WA

University of Western Australia chancellor Michael Chaney has announced Dawn Freshwater will replace Paul Johnson as VC. This is not unexpected – as senior DVC, Professor Freshwater drove last year’s comprehensive restructure. Locals say she was always front runner to replace Professor Johnson who (CMM September 6) announced four months back he did not want a second five year term and would leave at the end of 2016.

Professor Freshwater’s plan to cut costs and abolish 300 jobs got off to a shaky start in February, when the Fair Work Commission found university management had not consulted sufficiently with staff (CMM February 18). However, she persevered and by year’s end persistence and power points triumphed (Professor Freshwater likes a presentation).

Prior to joining UWA, Professor Freshwater was a PVC at the University of Leeds.

More complex than it looks

Early undergraduate completion data for students enrolling since the trial that began demand driven funding in 2010-11 reveals only a marginal decline in completions. But a new government analysis reveals a dramatic difference in completion rates. By 2014 some 88 per cent of students who started at the University of Melbourne then had completed. The comparable figure for Charles Darwin U was 41 per cent.

Advocates of the ATAR, who argue a high rank has predictive power will be disappointed that a regression analysis of the 2005 and 2006 cohorts shows it “represents or explains only a small part of the completion story, suggesting there are many other factors that contribute to a student completing their degree.” Type of attendance, student age on completion are the most significant variables, ahead of SES status, gender, ethnicity and residence.

The Department of Education and Training report also points out that Australian completion rates are well above OECD averages. However, attrition rates among students accepted on the basis of ATARs under 60 are significantly worse than for those with more substantial scores.

The ten universities with the best completion rates for the 2009 (to 2014) cohort are; UniMelbourne (88 per cent), UniSydney (81.9 per cent), ANU (81 per cent), Monash (79.3 per cent), UNSW (78.1 per cent), UTS (77.1 per cent), UniWollongong (76.7 per cent), RMIT (74.8 per cent) UWA (74.5 per cent) and Macquarie U (71.3 per cent).

The bottom ten are; Edith Cowan U (55.4 per cent), Charles Sturt U (53.5 per cent), Uni Sunshine Coast (53.3 per cent), Southern Cross U (52.5 per cent), Federation U (51.3 per cent), Murdoch U (49.6 per cent), UNE (49 per cent), Uni Southern Queensland (44.4 per cent) Central Queensland U (42.5 per cent), Charles Darwin U (41.8 per cent).

The overall completion average for for the 2009 cohort is 66.7 per cent however rates appear driven by student circumstances more than institutional characteristics. The graduation rate for people enrolling at Federation University between 2009 and 2014 was just 51 per cent. Yet Fed U, with large numbers of regional and first in family students, rates seventh in the country for student satisfaction in the new Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (CMM December 16).

This makes institutional improvement over time, from 2005-10 to 2009-14 an alternative measure of universities focus on students.  Universities improving completion by more than 5 per cent or more include Monash U, to 79.3 per cent, RMIT, to 74.8 per cent, Deakin U, to 70.5 per cent and Notre Dame WA. Universities that declined by 5 per cent or more are Uni Newcastle to 64.1 per cent, Federation U, down 14.1 per cent, to 51.3 per cent

Vann’s the man

Andrew Vann has accepted a second term as VC of Charles Sturt U. Professor Vann says he will use the next five years to implement a strategy “to take CSU successfully through the next phase of its journey as a leading online and regional higher education providers.” Professor Vann also nominates establishing the Murray Darling Medical School (a JV with La Trobe U) as a goal, despite a succession of federal ministers declining to fund the plan. There is no faulting Professor Vann for energy, optimism and ambition.

Birmingham wants attrition addressed

Undergraduate attrition numbers (above) are a gift for Education Minister Simon Birmingham who has talked about the problem since taking over the portfolio and made it plain, without saying anything specific, that if universities do not do anything about it he will. “We have heard too many stories about students who have changed courses, dropped out because they made the wrong choices about what to study, students who didn’t realise there were other entry pathways or who started a course with next to no idea of what they were signing themselves up for,” he said yesterday.

Senator Birmingham has commissioned Peter Shergold’s Higher Education Standards panel to consider reforms to lift completions.

Addressing attrition will be a great way for the minister to demonstrate he is on the side of students, especially if HECS is hiked this year.

NTEU leader dies

The National Tertiary Education Union’s first elected president, Carolyn Allport died on Monday, a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr Allport led the union from 1994 to 2010.

Senate says no

A learned reader versed in the legislative process wonders why universities are considering going to the courts to stop the government closing the Education Investment Fund and allocating its $3.7bn to pay down debt and fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As the government acknowledges, this will require legislation, which did not make it through the upper house when the ministry tried this in 2014, thanks to a Kim Carr amendment. This time, the reader suggests, senators might be suspicious as to how much money would go to pay down debt and how much to fund the NDIS, assume there will be more for the former than later and accordingly decline to end the EIF.

Consult QILT

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching website is not wildly popular with university managements who rated badly in it’s 2016 student survey (CMM December 16) but as an independent consumer guide for prospective students it is the best Australia has. QILT had just shy of half a million visitors last year. Simon Birmingham wants it to have many more as students make their final uni choice for this year.

Ives arrives

“Renowned artistic leader” Bryce Ives is Federation University’s new artistic director, with responsibility for the Arts Academy Ballarat and the Gippsland Centre of Arts and Design.

Degrees in slammer studies

If a nation is what students study the US is an unhappy nation indeed.According to College Factualcriminal justice and corrections” is the sixth most popular college major, ahead of teacher education, which is eighth. The top ten, in descending order are, business and management, nursing, liberal arts and general studies, general psychology, general biology, criminal justice and corrections, accounting, teacher education, communications and media. English language and literature is tenth. 

Go8’s Hoj sets policy direction  

The Group of Eight research intensive universities will collaborate with Universities Australia on issues that unite the system this year but incoming chair and VC of the University of Queensland, Peter Hoj says the Eight is obliged to advance policies that are good for it and right for Australia.

“We want to get away from brickbats being thrown among groups. For debate to be more mature and not personal will be a great step forward,” he says.

“People will say the Go8 is elitist but there is an important distinction between elite and elitist. We promote principles that may align with self-interest but are driven by what we believe. … The key feature separating the Go8 from other universities is its strong belief that Australia needs a research excellent group.”  That and a questioning attitude to the orthodoxy that demand driven funding for undergraduates cannot be touched and distaste for the emerging idea that students should pay more for courses

The big policy issue the Eight wants addressed this year is “the distorted research funding model.”

While the Go8 is pleased with the government’s ambitions for research, as expressed in the National Innovation and Science Agenda, Professor Hoj says the ambition is not properly resourced.

“Universities are not encouraged enough by policy and funding to conduct top level research. It seems easier for universities to run good surpluses if you don’t do a lot of research, we see this because research in and of itself is not funded properly.”

And what is bad for his members is also unfortunate for Australia. “There are decades of studies show connection between research and economic growth,” he adds.

Professor Hoj is accordingly adamant that the Education Investment Fund, should not be used to pay down public debt and fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme as the government has announced. “We believe to deliver NISA’s ambitions the EIG must be retained for research infrastructure.”

Professor Hoj also questions the cost of demand driven funding, which he calls a “great thing with undeniable benefits.” However he adds that “after such an enormous expansion it has to be asked whether it can be moderated.”  And with students from low SES backgrounds still under-represented in higher education, “perhaps it is time to consider “targeting funding to address disadvantage in more directed ways. More could be done to expand the system to truly disadvantaged students.”

Professor Hoj also emphasises the need for public support for students. “Most people would say by international standards Australian students asked to carry a high burden of their own education expenditure. They could be asked to pay some more but longer term this will lead to more defaults and the student debt burden will stop people becoming entrepreneurs.” And presumably researchers.

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