Productivity Commission positive on international education

Plus the most cosmopolitan MBA is at … (you’ll never guess)

Cashakhstan

Where would education exporters be without Austrade? Probably not in Astana and Almaty. But thanks to Austrade, international marketers who think Kazakhstan is a market to target can attend education imminent marketing fairs in its two top towns.

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Absence explained

Puzzled that James Cook U is not in the THE “100 universities under 50” list? The reason is principle not performance, at least if VC Sandra Harding is sticking to her long established position on rankings that include academic opinion. Back in 2012 she wrote in The Australian, “if those who know about your university are a relatively small and specialised crew, any ranking that relies on the largest international survey of academic opinion must deliver an homogenised result that will inevitably underplay your importance regardless of strength objectively measured. … introducing broad-based opinion to determine or heavily influence rank order fatally compromises the reliability and validity of any scheme. We cannot replicate the rank order results and we do not know the basis for the opinions expressed.” (Thanks to the policy expert with the long memory.)

Productive praise

Industries lobbies that want something from government loathe the Productivity Commission for its habit of going only where the economic evidence takes it and for looking for ways to save taxpayers from rent-seekers. The Commission’s prose does not sing but its reports always create a chorus of comment and complaint. So overall education exporters should be happy with yesterday’s PC report, Quality Regulation of International Education Services

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that Australia has maintained or improved its high standard for international education services in the years since 2009 — a period that experienced significant changes to the regulatory framework governing those services and to visa policy,” the PC states.

Certainly the PC alludes to problems with dodgy recruitment agents; “recent reports highlight the risks to quality that are emerging in the higher education sector as a result of the high dependence of some institutions on revenue generated by international students.”

But unlike last month’s NSW Independent Commission against Corruption and Four Corners reports, the PC is far less interested in international students’ ability and honesty than the efficiency and sustainability of the industry. The PC focuses on three issues – the impact of visa regulations on student demand, the quality of information on providers prospective students can access and institutions’ emphasis of teaching rather than learning.

Overall, the commission concludes, the university-friendly Streamlined Visa Processing system, introduced in 2012 to deal with gaming of voced enrolment by aspiring immigrants, has helped higher education providers, but at the expense of quality VET providers. Post study work rights also assist graduates rather than VET completers, although the PC states there is no hard data on how this might disadvantage vocational providers.

The PC also points to inadequate information on provider quality; “students lack information on the relative performance of providers against their legislative obligations, on the relative quality of education services delivered by providers, and on the relative education outcomes of providers.”

Quite right – so here’s hoping the government’s long-promised quality indicator for learning and teaching is released soon. QUILT will replace the useless My University website and will provide data on institutions from the brilliant University Experience Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey and a new survey of employer satisfaction. The sooner it is live the better, in the interests of all students, not just internationals.

The PC also argues quality control is too focused on education process rather than student outcomes;

“given that student achievement is the ultimate goal of education, outcome-based or learning standards such as the demonstration of generic and discipline-specific learning objectives (including competency in the English language), are equally important from a quality assurance perspective. This suggests that the current emphasis on teaching standards should be rebalanced to provide for learning standards to have a greater role in quality assurance arrangements.”

Good-oh, but as universities accredit their own qualifications, with professional associations setting content requirements for many occupations surely this already occurs. Unless of course the PC has more generic skills for international students in mind, like, say English fluency. Now that that would be interesting.

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Sales figures

Which university leads the country for ambitious international bizoids enrolled in MBAs? Perhaps it’s whatever they are calling the business school at UNSW this week. Maybe it’s the ever-so ambitious Macquarie U operation. Wrong on both counts, its Federation University, where internationals account for a staggering 77.9 per cent of MBA enrolments. The information is in a new paper by Stephen Connelly and Dennis Murray from GlobalEd Services, who have crunched HEIMS numbers on international participation in graduate business education.

And fascinating it is too. The Group of Eight, for example, is not big on international MBA students, they account for just 16 per cent of the average at Go8 institutions, The standout is ANU where nearly 40 per cent of onshore MBA students are from overseas.

The ATN is also surprising, well it surprises me, with a total MBA enrolment of a bare 2000, of whom an average 17 per cent are internationals. Except at UTS, where it’s a touch over a third.

All up, in 2013 (the most recent figures) there were 16300 MBA students in Australian programmes here and overseas.

So good they should have said it thrice

Education portfolio minister Chris Pyne used the 11 per cent overall increase on comparable 2014 international student numbers, announced yesterday, to promote submissions on his draft national strategy, adding “the data shows that our commitment to strengthening Australia’s international education sector is working.” Training Minister Simon Birmingham was very pleased with the 15 per cent hike in VET numbers, “these new international student numbers released today indicate that we are continuing to set the standard for other countries.” Bit mean to leave portfolio parly secretary Scott Ryan out, surely he could have added something nice about his native Victoria, especially if there is substance to the rumour that he is considering a run for Adam Bandt’s seat, which covers the University of Melbourne.

Really big salon

The University of Queensland MOOC on how to out-argue a climate change denier (it has a flasher title but that’s the gist of it) has a rave review in the ever-stylish Salon. Barack Obama’s university of choice whenever he is in Brisbane tells CMM the course has 10 000 plus participants – a case of quantity plus intellectual quality, to be sure.

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Evocca off the hook, for now

For-profit training provider Evocca found itself in all sorts of strife a couple of months back when ABC reports accused it of enrolling large numbers of students who were unlikely to complete courses. Evocca strenuously denied the claims but the Australian Council for Private Education and Training investigated anyway (CMM March 5).

Now Evocca has survived as an ACPET member, with the council calling for the company to provide a plan on lifting completion rates and ensuring student do not get out of their intellectual or financial depth.

“There was no evidence provided that Evocca acted contrary to legislation or government policy. However, Evocca acknowledges that the on-going speculation and reporting involving it has undermined confidence in the sector and the ACPET membership. It is imperative that there be public and Government trust and confidence in the private education sector and in particular in the ACPET membership,” the council states.

Evocca also has to convince public regulator ASQA that it is acting appropriately, separate academic and commercial governance, stop any references to incentives in marketing, and reduce student attrition and “unwarranted debt” from people enrolling in inappropriate courses.

Over to the Australian Skills Quality Authority.    

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