New VC moves fast at Murdoch

PLUS the Group of Eight commits to transparent ATAR

 AND ANU takes on uni admission guilds 

From the “you don’t say!” desk

Following news that the Federal Police raided Australian Career Network offices yesterday Training Minister Scott Ryan said “this should serve as a warning to all VET FEE-HELP providers that the Commonwealth will investigate allegations of fraudulent conduct against not only the VET FEE-HELP program, but all funding programs.” It just takes Department of Education and Training officials a while to get around to it.

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Group of Eight commits to transparent ATAR plus alternate entry

With the future of the much-gamed Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking being considered by the Higher Education Standards Panel, the Group of Eight has re-committed to the ATAR with a statement of principles. According to Chief Executive Vicki Thomson, Go8 institutions admit the majority of students on the basis of their ATAR, which is “the best available method of assisting students and our universities gauge if a prospective students has the capacity to complete their chosen course of study.”

“It is in our interest to ensure that transparency in admission arrangements are improved so more comprehensive information is available,” she said.

However as the Eight, “admits large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds by considering their individual circumstances … consideration of past educational disadvantaged must also be paramount.”

The Group of Eight commits to three enrolment pathways to make this all happen.

ATAR only: “To aid transparency” members will publish the number and the proportion of total commencing students admitted via this route. They will also report a minimum ATAR and quartiles of ATAR distribution.

ATAR and other criteria, including indicator of personal/educational disadvantage and additional selection tests/portfolios/auditions: Members will report the number and proportions of admitted students, criteria per pathway and details of any bonus scheme used.

Other pathways: with information on numbers of students, criteria and indicators also published.

“All Go8 institutions commit to the ongoing monitoring of the progress and success of students admitted under each of these pathways.

This is designed to ensure that the admission pathways that are set remain appropriate and that relevant and appropriate students support services are in place.”

This is smart stuff, setting a bar other universities must meet, unless, of course, they want to abandon the ATAR altogether.

A lawyer who’s an economist walks into a bar

Abigail Payne is the new director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. Professor Payne joins the Institute from McMaster University in Ontario, where she runs a public economics data analysis centre. With doctorates in law (Cornell) and economics (Princeton) Professor Payne says, “surely there is to be a joke to be made with that combination.” Perhaps her new colleagues will want to check the data with her before making it.

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ANU takes on uni admission guilds

ANU DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington suggested the possibility of a national tertiary admissions centre the other day, as a way of helping students understand all their university entry options (CMM Tuesday). It could also be necessary as universities compete across state borders, just under half applications to the ANU are from students outside Canberra. But ANU can be hard to find in state based admission systems and so the university applied for membership of the four it did not belong to. And was knocked back by three. Professor Hughes Warrington describes why in her new blog.

“One told us we needed a campus in their state, even though we teach programs like the Diploma of Languages online to students around Australia. Another told us we could not belong to two centres; the third simply told us that our application ‘could not be supported at this time’, “ Professor Hughes Warrington writes.

This struck ANU as crook, “it’s akin to asking a supermarket to ask permission of its competitor to set up shop in the same suburb,” Hughes Warrington suggests. It did not strike the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as much of an idea either and so last week the ACCC asked centres what they were up to, with a predictable result.

“Today we received our first reply: a reluctant invitation for my university to ‘resubmit’ our application for membership to one of the centres. The invitation was as warm as a July Canberra morning,” Hughes Warrington reports.

This goes a long way to making the case for a national admissions centre, she says; “what a national applications system for Australia might mean is better efficiency through the scaling up of what are often small, siloed operations at state level, and the development of a more rounded suite of services to cover operations such as international student admissions and accommodation preferences.”

Professor Hughes Warrington suggests that “Australian universities are competitive. This is a common observation by overseas university visitors, and they mean it as a compliment.”

As her own evidence suggests, she is too kind. CMM wonders if the Higher Education Standards Panel, which is inquiring into the ATAR system will notice all this. If its members don’t what’s the betting Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who announced the project, will point the panel at the possibility of a national approach.

First moves at Murdoch U

Eeva Leinonen is not mucking around at Murdoch University. A week or so into the job the new vice chancellor has announced a new executive structure. Three DVCs, international, education and research and innovation will join the provost and chief operations officer “as the most senior officers in the university”.

David Morrison, DVC since 2012 survives but the other two DVCs will be recruited. A search for a new provost, replacing Ann Capling, is already underway. The university also needs a new HR head. As to Andrew Taggart who held Murdoch together in the aftermath of Richard Higgott’s departure in 2014 as acting VC, he is being billed as an advisor and is on the university’s enterprise bargaining team. In her first message to staff last week Professor Leinonen stated Professor Taggart’s “contribution cannot be understated,” which seemed a bit tough on a bloke with whom she looks forward to “a close working relationship.”

Merit badge

Marnie Hughes Warrington suggests using blockchain to create a universal credit transfer system for students, but what about skills and qualifications acquired outside formal study? Digital badges do it and discussion about how to use them is bubbling along, thanks to people like Curtin U’s Kim Flintoff who curates a great resource on “digital badges and alternative credentialing in higher education,” here.

Chill, people

Academics are moving way too fast for potential business partners, says CRC Association chief Tony Peacock. No, CMM hasn’t got this the wrong way around. The days when can-do entrepreneurs lamented the glacial pace of academic partners is over. Now universities are doing the moving and shaking and scaring industry in the process.

“Companies have strategies, they have cultures and they have budgeting processes. Before they can collaborate, they need to assure themselves of alignment of these issues. This can’t happen in weeks and may not happen in months. It may take a year or two of discussion before a genuine collaboration is possible,” Dr Peacock warns research entrepreneurs.

He suggests tight time frames for the new CRC P and ARC Linkage grants could be blamed for universities hustling deals. However CMM suspect Malcolm Turnbull has something to do with it. For a start there is the bucket of money in the innovation strategy, which is surely going to be too good to last. And there isn’t much time to create impact and engagement outcomes Excellence for Research in Australia 2018.

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Choice of pathways

The University of Western Australia and University of Tasmania have a joint venture in China with Southwest University. Students at their Westa College in Chongqing study there for two years before moving to Hobart or Perth to complete a further two to graduate with degrees from the Chinese and one of the Australian institutions. Both UWA VC Paul Johnson and U Tas’s Peter Rathjen will be at Westa for its opening ceremony on Sunday.

Argument not over

The implementation plan for proposed changes at the ANU School of Culture, History and Language will not appear on Thursday as expected but next week. This emerged at a vigorous consultation with Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt yesterday, where supporters of Asia Pacific Studies in particular made their opposition to change very public. CMM hears neither side convinced the other.

TAFE friendly Fed

CMM suggested yesterday that as a dual sector institution Federation U might not be the local TAFE’s first pick to take over Deakin U’s Warrnambool campus. However a reader reports Fed U gets on splendidly with TAFE in Gippsland.

Unintended consequences

While the VET FEE HELP loan fiasco attracts all the attention other unintended consequences of cack-handed policy are ignored outside the industry. But not for long, the collapse in apprentice and trainee numbers will surely create skill shortages. In the third quarter last year apprentice and trainee numbers were down 14 per cent from 2104 (CMM March 4).

Craig Fowler, managing director of the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research defined the dimension and origin of the problem in a speech to the Registered Training Organisations conference.

In 2012 the Labor Government changed the distribution of apprentice employer subsidies to focus on in-demand skills to save $50m or so over for years. And what do you know; overall numbers went off a cliff! Quite a steep cliff. There were 516 000 apprentices in training then, there were 309 000 last year.

And while Dr Fowler did not blame university demand driven funding for the drop he suggested it did not help either. The growth in university numbers has come from middle to upper SES individuals while apprenticeships are attracting more people from lower income backgrounds and the bottom two quintiles for maths and reading achievement. But not to worry, if apprentices stick at it training will give them a leg up. Dr Fowler reports 63 per cent of apprentice completers are employed six months after finishing. “In contrast 42 per cent of bachelor graduates who received their award in 2014 were employed full-time four months after completing their course.”

CMM suspects it’s a consequence for graduates the feds did not intend either.

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Global and local heroes

MIT has reported its performance in the QS subject rankings – 12 worldwide number ones – two weeks after they were announced. You don’t need to run real hard when you’re that far in front. In other ranking news the Nigerian Universities Commission has released its top 100 list. There’s a world of education outside the anglosphere.

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