As one does

“‘When we go to the Arctic we have someone constantly on the lookout for polar bears” says Edith Cowan University’s Viena Puigcorbe Lacueva. Probably an occupational health requirement.

Glyn Davis explains how engaging with communities can protect universities from government

Gyn Davies sets out grim fates for universities, which could be ransacked, like 16th century monasteries, by ministers upset by their independence and resentful of their resources. “In Britain and Australia higher education ministers have not held back – universities are labelled as inefficient, with overpaid vice-chancellors and overly generous wages and conditions for staff in a time of austerity. These institutions seem ripe for ‘efficiency dividends’, ” he says.

And if Tudor-esque terminators don’t get them, online packagers of knowledge-product might, the University of Melbourne vice chancellor warned in a London speech last week.

But those with Henrician horrors should relax. Professor Davis suggests universities need not argue alone on their enemies terms by defending research, justifying salaries, demonstrating the value for public and student money they provide. Universities can also go further by implementing engagement; “creating meaningful links between a university and its many constituencies, and communicating the fact that this is what we do.”  It’s certainly what UniMelb wants to be seen as doing, hosting an international conference on universities engaging with their communities last month, (CMM September 29)

“When we engage, we encourage local forces to defend the value of universities whenever politicians stoke resentment. We make clear the campus offers more than qualifications …– the university is, in a real sense, part of the community,” Professor Davis told his London audience.

MOOC of the morning

Law for non-lawyers starts today, from Monash University via FutureLearn. It is taught by Lloyd England who is, “interested in legal education and raising legal consciousness in society for the benefit of us all.”


Funding cuts before Christmas

The politicians who protected universities last week may not do it again, at least not all of them

Last week Tanya Plibersek and the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie made it clear the government’s funding cuts had no hope in the Senate. But this does not mean they will always deliver what all universities want.

For a start, Ms Sharkie has not signed on to demand driven funding. “Look, they should look at the capping system. … We are spilling out thousands and thousands of students in areas where there’s no work, and we need to make sure that we provide the best opportunities for the next generation. I don’t think we’re doing that at the moment,” she said on ABC TV last week. There is also a hint (see below) that Labor is not as rusted on to DDF as it was when Gillard Government minister Chris Evans created the system.

This could be a real problem for higher education groups. While the government and Universities Australia supports demand driven funding some of its influential members suggest scaling it back (and spending the savings on their universities). In the absence of university unity and a solid Senate, capping undergraduate places would be an easier sell for the government. Simon Birmingham, like Christopher Pyne before him is solid in support of DDF but in the absence of other savings the treasurer and finance minister might be less so.

And for months Ms Plibsersek has talked up TAFE, not vocational education, the unionised TAFE systems. Anybody who thinks that Labor will always protect universities while the states run TAFE down should think again. When Craig Emerson needed money to fund Gonski he proposed taking a swag of it from universities – Labor in government could do the same to fund TAFE.

Then there is the coalition, not especially well-disposed to vice chancellors jus now. Last week Minister Birmingham said the government “will consider the options for higher education policy and address the budget implications from the Xenophon party’s decision to oppose $2.8 billion worth of savings in favour of yet more spending.” The immediate context for any consideration is now the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, due before Christmas. One way or another MYEFO will cover saving money in higher education.

Pyne understands the power of the purse

Christopher Pyne understands the power of office – always announcing funding in his defence industry portfolio that less energetic ministers would not bother with. On Friday he told us about five new projects including $2.2m for the University of Newcastle which will “explore the development” of virtual reality based training for resilience and $183k for Griffith U to work on the possibilities of a portable detector of airborne biological threats. Billions for fighter jets it isn’t but it demonstrates sensible spending on defence – that it makes the minister look hard working is entirely incidental.


Plibersek puts demand driven uni enrolment on the agenda

Any members of the Australian Council of Deans of Education who thought Tanya Plibersek would tell them that everything wrong in teaching is the government’s fault was disappointed with the Labor education shadow’s speech on Friday.

She questioned the academic ability of students accepted into teaching degrees; “I remain very concerned about the academic aptitude of some students being accepted into teaching education. While the ATAR certainly is not a perfect measure of the likely aptitude of a teacher, the trends in ATAR scores for education courses are of concern.”

And she queried the quality of the degrees they do. “It seems unfair to students paying to undertake a university course that at the conclusion of a four-year degree they do not possess passable literacy and numeracy skills. It makes me question how that student was able to commence that degree and certainly how they were able to graduate.”

Ms Plibersek went much further, suggesting that the demand driven system was a problem in teacher education.

“When last in government Labor uncapped the undergraduate system, and gave universities freedom to enrol as many students according to demand. We are proud of that reform but also conscious of the risks to the system it entails.

“In particular, the risk that, with freedom in the system, and the lowering of entry marks, universities are enrolling in teaching courses to meet their business plans rather than addressing genuine demand. It’s up to you – the university community – to show leadership here and ensure we have high-quality courses for students who should be there.  … But we cannot have universities falling for the pressure of ‘letting a few more in’ just to satisfy short-term financial interests.”

Letting a few more in” is a line that Labor in office could use to make the case for caps. Perhaps this is a one-off that applies to teaching degrees or perhaps Ms Plibersek is laying foundations for a big policy change.

No, not that coalition

The National Tertiary Education Union is carefully thanking all its parliamentary pals lest anyone think Rebekha Sharkie from the Nick Xenophon Team acted alone. “The NTEU applauds the decision of the NXT and also gratefully acknowledges the consistent opposition by the ALP and the Greens to cutting university funding and making students pay more. We also note Senator Jacqui Lambie’s steadfast opposition, as well as that of (independent members of the House of Representatives) Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan in the House of Representatives.”


Ministers come and go but Melbourne’s Model remains

When Simon Birmingham suggested phasing out funding for the Melbourne model (HELP-eligible bachelor plus coursework masters) the University of Melbourne looked the minister’s plan dismissively up, disdainfully down and then effectively ignored it. Even before Thursday’s news that the education minister’s package did not have the Senate numbers the university made it plain that the M model was staying.

On Monday the university launched a new recruitment campaign based on the MM, with Provost Margaret Sheil telling CMM, “the University of Melbourne remains committed to the Melbourne Model.” And last week the university published a tenth anniversary article for alumni explaining what a splendid thing is the MM. Ministers come and but UniMelb magisterially rolls on.

Who won’t get a tick from TEQSA

TEQSA wants to tighten terms defining whether an applicant seeking to register a higher education provider meets the threshold standards and is a fit and proper person. The Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency is seeking comment on its proposed detailed exclusions. These are mostly specific to the sector but lest any not entirely sound citizens are missed the agency has two exclusions at the end. “Whether the public is likely to have confidence in the person’s suitability to be involved in an organisation that provides higher education.” This should cover most people but if it doesn’t reason (h) adds, “any other relevant matter.” Should cover just about everybody.

Monash cancels coaches

Monash U is partnering with consultants Mercer Australia, to help students find work. There is flash software that identities students’ skills and matches them with employers (CMM October 19). Good for students who want jobs, less so for careers staff who now help them.

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union reports the university, “favours using agency-employed careers success coaches” and that since a 2016 restructure, “careers consultants have been given reduced time for student consultations (20 minutes) while coaches (who have no career guidance training) have one hour appointments.”

And recently, the union says eight “highly experienced careers consultants were told their jobs are likely to be axed as part of a move to an ’employability model’.”

To which Monash management replies that six people are offered voluntaryseparation packages.”

“We’re committed to ensuring every student has the opportunity to develop their own unique employability narrative, to learn to be enterprising, to develop the skills employers tell us they value and to harness their capacity to be the ‘CEO of themselves‘, the university adds. Now, there’s a line imminently out-of-work Monash career consultants can use on CVs.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. Dayong Jin from UTS won the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year not the Malcolm McIntosh Life Scientist award (CMM Friday).