Keeping the customers satisfied: international education in ok shape

Plus you beaut ute for Vic apprentices

More of the same

Steve Chapman, the new vice chancellor at Edith Cowan University was officially invested the other day in a ceremony including a bagpipe band. Did no one think that he might have had enough pipers in his last job, as VC of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.

 What a surprise

Chisholm Institute welcomes the $300m in the Victorian budget, “to support TAFE institutes to prosper.” It is especially keen on the share it received to redevelop its Frankston campus, which will provide “world class innovative facilities” and so forth as well as “catering for higher education delivery.” Despite what the TAFE lobby says about for-profits it appears not all competition in post secondary education is bad.

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You beaut ute

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research will open applications next week for state and federal funded VET research. Anybody with an idea should check it’s covered by the NCVER’s research prospectus, published last month.

One project CMM hopes somebody is funded for is a future study of an apprentice subsidy in Tuesday’s Victorian budget. The $8.8m scheme will provide a 50 per cent reduction on light vehicle rego in Melbourne, for apprentice “bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, electricians and plumbers,” if employers can demonstrate the vehicle is essential for their work. This, the government says is about helping apprentices “get the skills they need for the jobs they want.” Good-oh, but what about all the other apprentices, trainees and students who have to lug their gear about? What about double bass students, hmm?

Be interesting to see if Vic building trade apprentice completions improve in the next few years.

Ladies men

Research from the Royal Society finds polygnyous blokes in a hunter-gatherer Pygmy community in the Congo aren’t attractive because they are taller or stronger than other men. Not, they are just more popular. Who would have thought.

Mission (im)possible

The University of Western Australia has explained its new “pursue impossible” branding strategy, (CMM yesterday). According to chief marketing officer Karen Carriero, it, “says so much about our university  – who we are, what we do and how, every single day, our researchers, students and academics are working to shape a better future.” If she says so. But if the brand says it all why keep the university crest? UWA now has two slogans, “pursue impossible” and the long-established “pursue wisdom.” CMM suspects convincing the university community the new one says more about them than the old one may be the real impossibility.

Possibly pissed-off postgrads

What is less possible than a sure thing is that people at UWA will compare the cost of the new campaign to cuts on campus. Postgraduates say the university is abolishing its completion scholarship for higher degree students after this round. It follows last year’s cancellation of top-up scholarships for people with Australian Postgraduate Awards.

They are especially aggrieved by the end of the completion scholarships, which give postgrads extra time to finish these and a chance to write up research for publication.

“The university claims that they wish for higher completion rates and shorter completion times however by forcing postgraduates, who need only a little more support to complete, into further part-time work to support themselves at the business end of a research degree, both those factors would necessarily suffer,” postgrads complain.

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Satisfied customers

Forget Four Corners and don’t worry about the Productivity Commission, all is well in international education – at least if satisfied customers is what matters. Last year’s survey, just released, found international students in Australia are very happy. Some 87 per cent are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their studies and 89 per cent pleased with living here.

As for letting standards slip, this will not cut it with the customers; with 90 per cent plus of students rating institutional reputation and teaching/research quality as reasons to study here bankable reputations are essential.

None of this answers problems of quality control and unjustified passes for full-fee payers. But with student numbers rising and satisfaction holding overall the Australian brand is in ok-shape, for now.

Advice for all 

Occasional addresses at graduations are often incoherent exercises in egoism, but not Martin Parkinson’s at the University of Adelaide yesterday. The former treasury secretary’s was a model of art, elegant, understated but acute, with advice, for everybody in the audience. Thus he urged students to follow their interests but contain their passions; “this is not an argument for the status quo, but remember where the political centre is – more often than not, you will ultimately need to bring the centre with you if you want to change things.”

And he suggested some challenges they should take up, “climate change, indigenous advancement, entrenched disadvantage” challenges his generation had ducked. “We rode the benefits of other’s reform efforts, and thought that success was our doing. In the process, we conflated self-interest with national-interest. We lost sight of the big picture and applauded the things that made me better off, irrespective of the cost to others in our community, or to future generations.”

But perhaps most interesting was a reminder that even now higher education is a privilege that not all taxpayers enjoy but all pay for. “You are privileged to have received a world class education from one of the finest institutions in the country. And you are doubly privileged because, in part, that education has been paid for by people who will never have the opportunities you have already had, and will continue to have.”

CMM suspects he was talking to university staff as well as the graduates.

Simon says

The same thing all the time. This is exactly what Training Minister Simon Birmingham correctly does whenever asked about crook for-profit training providers. Senator Birmingham got the junior education portfolio in the December reshuffle, which means he started at a terrible time, with allegations all-over that agents for private colleges were chasing government subsidies by convincing unqualified people to enrol in courses they had no hope of completing, or paying for. He responded by writing and sticking to a script; spivery is unacceptable, shonks have no place in the business and for-profits will behave ethically or exit. He was holding the line yesterday on radio in Sydney and Adelaide, with performances the for-profit industry should thank him for. If anyone can keep their access to a market the TAFE lobby and its allies in state governments thinks is the public sector’s by right it is Birmingham.

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Less than prestigious publishers

Have supporters of the status quo in academic publishing had a look at what is going on at the Medical Journal of Australia? The existing scholarly publishing hierarchy is based on the assumption researchers, universities and the taxpayer should subsidise commercial publishers because they produce the prestigious titles. And yet MJA editor if chief Stephen Leeder and most of the editorial advisory committee have resigned because management has decided to outsource subbing and production to a commercial publisher. And not just to any publisher, to Reed Elsevier the world’s biggest, richest for-profit producer of journals, it turned over Euro 3.47bn last year. However despite Elsevier’s power it seems medical researchers prefer not to work with the company.

So much for the argument that everybody having to pay for access to research funded by the taxpayer is the price of prestige in publishing.

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