Ian Young makes the Eight’s case

Getting what you pay for

In the US journal publishers are proposing CHORUS, their open access database to meet federal requirements that publicly funded research be available to the public. Australia is a step ahead, with institutional repositories, but there is a still long march to comprehensive open access, as Colin Steele and Danny Kingsley explain in the Campus Morning Mail brief (on the homepage)

Young makes the Eight’s case

Ian “the gent” Young did well at the National Press Club yesterday. The speech by the Australian National University VC and Group of Eight chair was standard stuff for education observers – deregulation will empower universities to diversify, without student fees the system will stagnate, Australia must spend more on research. But Wran’s First Law of policy change applies – when a change-agent is utterly sick of making a case the community is just starting to get the message. However it was in answering questions that Professor Young excelled, he was articulate and expansive and while I doubt he changed minds among the many opponents of deregulation he might have convinced some undecideds. Professor Young suggested student fees under deregulation could top out at $14,000 a year “a long way short” of the $100,000 degrees being quoted. He argued deregulation would give all universities the ability to diversify. “Australia’s 39 universities are not the same now and we should not fund them to be the same,” he said. And while he urged the Senate crossbench to consider the national interest he was careful not to mention what, if anything, he had said to any of them. But on the much-debated issue of the proposed HECS real interest rate he presented less a hint than a flashing neon sign. Modelling by father of HECS Bruce Chapman was with the minister and Professor Young said he is “fairly confident” that Mr Pyne has heard the message. If the Pyne package fails it will not be down to a lack of effort from Ian Young – which is more than can be said for one previously outspoken G8 VC who has gone very quiet indeed.

And Johnson joins in

The silent one certainly isn’t the University of Western Australia’s Paul Johnson, who addressed a Committee for Economic Development of Australia function in Perth yesterday. “We need to be able to better compete with the best universities around the world so we can undertake high impact research, attract the top students and produce leading graduates and attract the best academics. This can’t happen under a highly regulated system,” he said.

Brand building

For a bloke who does not like all this talk about markets in education University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker is a dab hand at brand building. Not content with deals with local rugby franchise The Brumbies and women’s basketball team The Capitals, UC is now shirt sponsor (no less!) for the Canberra United women’s soccer team. Lord help ANU if Professor Parker ever embraces free market competition.

 If it brays like a camel and looks like a camel

It’s probably a horse designed by a committee. If the Group of Eight is not talking to crossbenchers it should. Other lobby groups are helpfully suggesting to senators that they should go and talk to representative universities to learn about the impact of the Pyne package. Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie visited CQU this week and I’m guessing people at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Clive Palmer’s local, will be happy to explain everything to him. So what will senators who go visiting hear? I’m guessing that most universities like the idea of charging their own fees but want a smaller cut to funding for Commonwealth Supported Places and a reduction in the proposed real interest rate on HECS. To pay for it (at least some of it) they will suggest less money for non-university providers, and a delay in NUHEPS competing for students. In other words a market, where some competitors are more equal than others. Oh and could everything be phased in over a couple of years please? Good luck with this, because even if Mr Pyne is inclined to agree Treasury will want offsets – and the only place in higher education they could come from is more cuts to research. Which would make it a case of same camel, different container.

Every little bit counts

The University of Queensland has cleaned up in the state government’s research awards –with funding for seven projects. But lest the Australian Research Council thinks the pressure is off its diminishing dosh the awards are only $2.5m – um that’s not each, it’s all up.

No worries

New research shows while the state of their finances fusses students it does not drive them to abandon study. And, if not now, I imagine the Education Minister will argue, why should things change if HECS debt goes up? The findings are in a new study by Sian Halliday-Wynes and Nhi Nguyen for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Educational Research. “While financial needs are a common concern for tertiary students, they do not appear to be the main driver affecting completion rates and/or study decisions. It was not the burden of financial hardship that was identified as being the primary motivator for students withdrawing from their studies, but a lack of interest in the course, or personal matters,” the authors conclude.

Credit and debit

Federation University explains what deregulation might mean. “Our modelling suggests our federal funding could fall by about $10 million a year over four years from 2016. This figure is inexact, however, as the university’s income may rise over the same period.” So that’s all clear then.

Opening access

Some 3 per cent to six per cent of university students identify as disabled, which makes the work of the Global Access Project very important indeed. GAP comes out of a service created at Macquarie University to assist sight and hearing impaired students there and at other universities with study materials. When Macquarie decided to focus on its own students David Wright, Sharon Kerr and Kylie Colvin created the consultancy to assist students at higher and further education institutions across the country. GAP is also the third industry partner in the Liberated Learning Consortium, hosted by the University of Massachusetts, which develops speech recognition software for higher education. GAP provides freelance consultants with teaching skills and the technical ability to reformat learning materials, converting audio files to text, for example, on a fee for service basis. The consultancy has negotiated agreements with three undisclosed education clients and is negotiating with universities and colleges around the country. Good luck to them.

Spread the QUILT

On Tuesday Graduate Careers Australia released its 2013 report on starting employment and income for grads of all universities – which is useless for anybody who wants to know the employment outcome record of individual institutions. In the past GCA has argued it is individual institutions that veto release of comprehensive campus stats, but this will be no excuse if deregulation occurs. Professor Ian O’Connor’s committee proposes including GCA information in the planned Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching guide for prospective students. Here’s hoping the QUILTs coverage is thick and broad.

What would they know

A participant at yesterday’s CEDA forum on higher education in Perth suggested some politicians do not know how universities work. On the basis of some of the lobbying underway now MPs could say the same thing about academics.

Busy work

A reader with a long memory suggests that UNSW outgoing VC Fred Hilmer departs as he arrives, mucking around with the university business brands by changing names. What was the Australian School of Business is now the University of New South Wales Business School, with the Australian Graduate School of Management name staying for postgraduate courses. I wonder what has changed since 2007 when the AGSM and the university’s Faculty of Commerce merged to form, yes, the Australian School of Business.

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