Change still on government agenda plus the poorest of all university programmes

Early start

Simon Birmingham on life with Tony Abbott under canvas in remote northern Australia last week; “he made sure the army had us all up at 5:15 each morning for a PT session.” And quite right too, given the senator is training minister.

Poorest of cousins

Just three in every hundred Australian undergraduates participate in a work integrated learning placement, according to a new report for Chief Scientist Ian Chubb which he will launch at the Association for Tertiary Education Managers conference in Wollongong today. While engineering faculties require students to complete industry placements, authors Rosyln Prinsely and Krisztian Baranyai conclude just three in one hundred natural and physical science students have long term (12 weeks minimum) placements. While the authors point to exceptions, notably QUT, Swinburne and UTS, the problem largely lies with universities which do not reward academics for WIL work, and do not design courses that engage with industry. They quote an academic saying that as teaching is the poor cousin of research in universities so WIL is the poor cousin’s impoverished one.  “Every student has the right to expect their education will provide them with a wide range of employment skills related to their studies. Every university should recognise and act on that obligation.” they write.

Pyne pushes on

Andrew “the rifleman” Trounson’s story in The Weekend Australian that Chris Pyne will consider piecemeal plans for deregulation is entirely accurate, but sometimes the subtleties of ministerial musings are best grasped when quoted comprehensively. So for a complete sense of the government’s next move (or the absence of one) here’s how Mr Pyne answered a conference question about the future of his package in the Senate on Friday;

“We need six votes out of eight for every single decision and whereas David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day and to an extent Dio Wang (move) more towards the free market, most of the other crossbenchers still believe government should be the centre of most decision making and they also believe that there is a bottomless pit of government money that should be used to solve every problem. … Those of you who are in private education recognise that that is not possible but for every move that we make toward the market you lose more crossbenchers than when you move toward regulation and spending. So it is very difficult, you notice we have lost this twice and my intention is to put it up a third time but we do have to have a fall-back option of course which is to try and bring about a more piecemeal change … in the absence of far reaching greater reform. But I haven’t yet decided to do that because that would be an admission that the whole reform is not going to pass. …. but there are some in the sector (who think) you should trade away support for private providers in order to get some of the loosening up of the system for us. That is just all part of government policy – trying to manage all the different voices in the sectors.”


Protecting students

Hooray for the Fair Work Ombudsman who is acting on its promise to protect international students exploited in part time jobs. In this case the FWO secured wages for a Taiwanese student in Melbourne being paid way under the relevant award rate. That the FWO announced the achievement just hours ahead of a Fairfax story on convenience stores exploiting young workers is obviously a coincidence.

Prospective international students need to know that their courses are value for money, but also that their safety and rights are assured in Australia. While the government’s proposal for an international agent code of conduct is a thoroughly good thing the problems that can reduce demand only begin when students arrive.

Quick change agents

Staff at WSU (UWS that was) fear management is about to create an academic caste system via a “research effort framework”, with academics allocated to teaching-only or research and teaching streams. Staff are worried the work plan committee meeting on Tuesday is set to establish a research inactive category consisting of people in the bottom quartile for refereed publications, money raised and higher degree supervision.

CMM wonders if this can be unilaterally achieved. The university enterprise agreement specifies; management will work with the workplan committee to establish a consensus “on the type and level of research activity that may be the subject of negotiations regarding research duties.” The committee consists of the VC, three deans and three academics nominated by the National Tertiary Education Union. The university did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.

ANU June 3

Public sector slump

Labor’s Kim Carr (higher education spokesman) and Sharon Bird (training) are tying terrible training completion rates (CMM Friday) to private provider crook courses, “targeting vulnerable people and signing them up to training courses that may be of poor quality and inappropriate to their needs. … It is now beyond time that the Liberals realise that the responsibility of government demands action, not more excuses, blame shifting and weasel words.” Quite right, the shortage of trainers with a Cert IV in speaking weasel is a disgrace.

But the pair do rather ignore that this as much a public as private sector problem. Back in June  CMM July 1) the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training reported that in 2013-14 TAFE enrolments dropped by 8 per cent, the same rate at which the much smaller private sector increased.

Value focus

Andrew Norton and colleagues from the Grattan Institute have a new paper out this morning on who pays what to study at Australian universities, which demonstrates how markets work when consumers have the information needed to compare institutions. While international students tend to buy prestige brands locals are less likely to pay a premium for the sandstone and ivy of a high-status campus. “International students pay a large premium to attend a Group Eight university compared to a technology university. For domestic students, fees charged by different Group of Eight and technology universities overlap significantly. Some technology universities charge more than some Group of Eight universities,” they write. This reflects the reality that Australian employers are not overly impressed by Group of Eight degrees, the Grattan authors argue.

Norton and colleagues have produced a comprehensive guide to fee structures at Australian universities, which is a great scene setter to the forthcoming Grattan report on university profitability on fee-paying students.

Always look on the bright side of death

Arnaud Wisman and Nathan Heflick at the University of Kent surveyed people on attitudes to death and found those who believe in an afterlife feel less hopeless about their own mortality. Where there’s death there’s hope.

criterion update

Spot the difference

Flinders University’s new “make every day count” student recruitment campaign ticks many boxes. For a start it uses your actual Flinders undergraduates. It is also shot on campus and while it focuses on happy smiling students it also presents them doing some work. The campaign web page is crisp and links through to standard recruitment information and the media mix, online, cinema, outdoor is straightforward – why universities bother with TVCs these days puzzles CMM.

But one box that it does not tick is what the campaign communicates about the unique Flinders experience. The short answer is not much, the long answer is the same. The ‘city on the hill’ imagery is engaging enough but the campaign message could work just as well for any university in the country. “At Flinders, every day brings with it exciting opportunities to learn and grow as your dreams and ambition come alive. Because life isn’t just about the destination; it’s about living in the moment and making every day count.” Delete Flinders and insert (university of your choice) and it still works.

And this is the problem for Australian universities that are all uniquely excellent in much the same way – they fail on Draper’s First Law of Brands – product attributes and their consumer benefits are not created by copy.

The ANU elite

Maybe it’s all the politics in the ether but the annual ANU power list in student newspaper Woroni is always astute and informed. This year puts Chancellor Gareth Evans at one, incoming VC Brian Schmidt at two and outgoing Ian “the gent” Young at three. But it’s the people they pick a bit further down the ladder that is impressive. Like DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington (joint fourth), who is building a reputation outside Acton with her analyses of higher education operation. And like Finance Director Chris Granger (fifth) who was immersed in finding and managing contentious cuts as soon as he arrived for U Wollongong and has quickly established his authority. Woroni is also wise to again recognise the enduring achievements of comms head Jane “the wizard of the lobby” O’Dwyer, “her personal style and broad experience that brings clout and influence to her office,” Woroni writes; the very words used to describe her in last year’s list (CMM February 27 2104).

Multiple messages

Just as the University of Western Sydney is spending up on its name change to Western Sydney U, its School of Business is going live with an entirely independent campaign, “changemaker”. The school’s Sara Denize, tells staff the message is “change is the only constant in business” and students will be invited “to learn how to lead it.” The unspecified budget is covering outdoor on major western Sydney roads plus rail and bus stops and a social media presence, for which “we need lots and lots of stories about being change makers at UWS (sic).” But what happens when people want to know where the times are a changing? Not much, the outdoor has a generic WSU url plus a WSU logo so small that commuters who do not have their subatomic microscope with them will miss it. CMM is sure there is a better way to erode the impact of a corporate brand relaunch but it escapes him for the moment.