Bebbington: universities face a perfect storm

Plus remembrance of reformers past

Many more than Politics 101

The Australian Political Science Association powers ahead today at the University of Sydney. This is a big deal indeed, despite the occasional warnings about queues for coffee it looks like the organisers have got the logistics right for a very big gathering. And, unlike other political science conferences it includes a great deal of, well politics, as practised. A bunch of papers is already posted on the Social Science Research Network site. One worth reading there by everybody interested in the context for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s imminent innovation statement is Jenny Stewart’s (UNSW) “Policy Learning, Path Dependence and Australian Manufacturing, 1974–2014.”

Sink or swim in a perfect storm of change

Whether or not Minister Pyne’s plan passes, the higher education paradigm is already shifting, according to University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington. In a strong speech this morning Professor Bebbington will warn that while deregulation will make unavoidable changes more manageable, regardless of whatever does or does not occur in Canberra universities must change, radically and quickly. “The combination of the uncapped system and changing student habits, a flat student market, increasing competition from Asian universities and a volatile return on investment in technology has led universities to a ‘point of no return’ irrespective of the higher education reform package currently under debate,” Professor Bebbington will say.

To successfully adapt, universities must ‘realign to their core purpose’ of teaching and research in the context of the communities they serve.

“In a growing number of cities, including Adelaide, we have universities slowly replacing dead or dying manufacturers, or other businesses, as amongst the major institutions and largest employers in the region. Higher education is increasingly the linchpin of the economy in some places. But being the modern equivalent of the town’s steel mill or auto plant is not without costs. Where a university is central to the regional economy, external pressures grow: it becomes held to account for the local job market, a player in the local housing developments, civic service recreation provision, even the entertainment business.”

While he does not detail it Bebbington is already implementing a plan for his own institution, investing in digital delivery and small group teaching for on-campus students.

However the significance of this speech reaches far beyond the South Australian context. Bebbington’s warning is stark –all post secondary education providers are in a perfect storm of change, one that will not break or be avoided. The best the Pyne plan will do is make navigating it easier but without deregulation the weather will be worse. His message for opponents of change is they are raging against the inevitable.

That which does not kill you makes you sneeze

The University of Queensland promotes a research talk which “puts Ebola aside to talk about research into the common cold,” Twitter, yesterday. Good to see the PR people have their priorities right.

Beijing beats Brussels

ACPET reports DFAT is in touch re an FTA with the EU (alright, I will stop now). Ye gods, imagine the negotiations with a bureaucracy that makes China look like a model of transparent and efficient administration. Given the problem members of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training have working across state lines with governments here the prospect of dealing with the EU does not bear thinking about.

Week of the week

The University of Adelaide is reporting research on circadian rhythm disruption in pregnancy as part of Sleep Awareness Week (which we are now in). Um, am I being dozy but isn’t this a contradiction in terms?

Define “student”

Management at the University of Western Sydney is asking staff to get involved in creating a glossary of key terms to ensure everybody is always on the same administrative page. “Some of the benefits of introducing a business glossary include assisting new staff and students to understand the specific meanings of terms – such as ‘student’, ‘mature age’, ‘enrolled student’ and ‘blended learning’ – within the context of UWS operations, and to improve data management.” I can’t imagine they will have much trouble with ‘student’ – after all UWS has 40 000 of them but given the age of Australia’s continuing academic workforce I bet they argue over what ‘mature’ means.

Naming rights

The University of Melbourne is very pleased indeed to announce that it will host next year’s Times Higher World Academic Summit, where the rankings will be released. I’m guessing VC Glyn Davis is not expecting a sudden slide in his university’s standing in the imminent 2014 release.

It is not so long ago that VCs of major universities made a point of dismissing league tables as vulgar promotion but no longer – Uni Melbourne obviously assumes that an association with THE is good for its rep. Of course the ever-diplomatic Professor Davis is careful to share the compliment that comes from hosting the THE. “Melbourne prides itself on its position as a knowledge city so it is only fitting that the THE would choose our city as the first Australian city to hold its summit,” he says. But somehow I doubt that anybody will think of Monash, or any of the city’s five other public universities when they think of THE ’15 being held in marvellous Melbourne.

Headline of the week

Yes, I know it is only Tuesday, but I’m giving it to the University of Queensland for, “massive enrolment shows a clamour for grammar.” Respect. Apparently UoQ has 40 000 starters for a course offered via its edX franchise. Great branding for the university.

Remembrance of plans past

Everybody interested in post school education policy and how it has, and hasn’t changed, is in the debt of the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research for collecting every, and as far as I can tell, it is every, report since Martin. They are collected in three categories, national tertiary education, some 97, state and territory (117) and higher education (40). In combination they are just about all the primary sources necessary for a comprehensive study at the one URL – all anybody interested needs is the stamina to read them and the optimism not to despair at the way some, well many, um, nearly all actually, were ignored in whole of part. What, for example became of the detail underpinning the Finn plan (1991) to have 95 per cent of 19 year olds in post school education and/or training by 2001 and the two ’92 biggies, the Carmichael report on outcome based training assessment, and the Mayer key competencies. People too young to remember anything other than Dawkins (or Bradley!) should go back and have a look at previous plans to adjust higher education to a changing world, including those of Murray (1957), Martin (1964), Karmel (1974), Hudson (1985) and of course West (1998).

Want to know why Christopher Pyne surprised everybody with his plan in the budget? The history of reform, illustrated by this collection explains why – the longer structural reform is debated the easier it is for supporters of the status quo to knock it off. Yes Dawkins and Bradley were discussed into delirium and got up but they were easier to sell because everybody was a winner. Back in the late ‘80s what CAE principal did not want to be a VC and what elitist VC did not want the money that came acquiring/sponsoring campuses? And people supposed Bradley would bring more EFTS at the same, or better, money per head. But there are losers as well as winners under Pyne and he may yet join other reformers whose ideas were ultimately knocked back. He will be in honoured company if it happens – something I doubt will cheer him up this morning.

Lower than the low

Christopher Pyne must have wondered what happened on ABC TV’s Q&A last night. For a start there were no chanting protestors and he was not by himself, Kate Carnell from ACCI actually agreed with him on higher education. Inevitably the audience applauded when he was criticised but overall he actually got a hearing. There was even a point on which people agreed with him, that education coverage in the media is not what it was. Gosh, you know you are on the bottom of the heap when an MP criticises you on work performance.

Off the list

Yesterday I reported NTEU research from last year showing the University of Newcastle paid its VC $1m plus in 2012. The union was in touch first thing yesterday to tell me that the figure was wrong and they had long past withdrawn it. Apologies for repeating the mistake.

 

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