Davis lays it on the line: universities fail to make their funding case with voters

Shifting gears

At the Sydney Institute last night the Prime Minister outlined budget priorities, including higher education. “Universities’ funding will shift but they will have much more freedom to innovate and to build on Australia’s strength as a magnet for students, teachers and researchers from around the world.” Sounds like he has been talking to Education Minister Christopher Pyne about deregulation, but what does “funding will shift” mean?

The day after

Just about all the usual lobby group suspects were silent after reading reports of Mr Pyne’s London speech yesterday. Perhaps they were waiting for formal confirmation or maybe they were trying to work out what to say about complex reforms, which will not necessarily divide all universities on factional lines. But the National Tertiary Education Union is never lost for words and it got stuck in, suggesting that allowing private providers to enrol Commonwealth funded students, “will ultimately lead to students and their families paying the price through higher fees and a lower quality educational experience.” President Jeannie Rea said the deregulation of training in Victoria indicated what would happen, “not only has the Victorian experiment failed to deliver students with in-demand skills and qualifications, it has resulted in significant increases in student fees, as well as high levels of deceptive and misleading advertising and marketing practices by private Research Training Organisations (RTOs).” Nearly half the Group of Eight VCs and La Trobe’s John Dewar are on the record of endorsing competition but I wonder if all their peers agree. Watching responses to Mr Pyne’s proposals is going to be fascinating.

Davis shapes the debate

Glyn Davis has paid the University of Melbourne Student Association the courtesy of a reply to its petition protesting his call for a debate on increasing student fees (CMM April 24). The Vice Chancellor sent staff and students a 1500 word essay yesterday setting out the case for at least considering students’ paying more. Professor Davis made the well known points, notably that university funding per student head has dropped for decades – but he went further and frankly stated what the university lobbies always duck, that higher education is electorally impotent – that governments can run funding down because it costs them nothing at the ballot box. “Put bluntly, the electorate believes university students do well after graduation, earning more than most. The case for investing more on higher education makes compelling sense to students and staff but rarely moves the wider community,” he said. And if the government does cut funding but allows universities to raise fees to make up (some?, all?) the loss what is Uni Melbourne to do? Professor Davis spelt it out; “do we accept a fall in quality as the public subsidy diminishes yet again, or seek flexibility to match the student contribution to the real cost of delivering tertiary education and address inadequacies in the current system? This question is bigger than fee levels, since it goes to a status quo already riddled with inequitable distribution of available public funding. It is not in students’ interests to reduce the quality of their education to avoid unpopular fee rises. This is a choice no one welcomes, but a question we cannot avoid.” A case well made – light on rhetoric heavy on real politick. But what would happen if the feds allowed universities to charge what they chose but refused to loan students the extra money via HECs? This debate has a way to run.

What’s in a name?

John Howard will receive an honorary doctorate from Charles Sturt University in December, “in recognition of Mr Howard’s efforts to secure funding in the 2007-08 Commonwealth budget to create the University’s dental school.” Lord knows how they would honour the minister who delivered the really big prize – the university’s desperately desired medical school. Probably name it after him or her. The whole university that is, not just the med school.

One for the wonks

The wonkiest ones. The National Centre for Vocational Educational Research has announced its annual no-frills conference. True to the title it is on 9-11 July in Melbourne’s (very) suburban Moorabin. Usual speeches aside, the highlight for voced researchers will be the curtain-raiser workshops led by NCVER staff. The one that especially interests me is on using the extraordinary Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, which has data on how 60 000 young people transition from school to study, work and beyond compiled over nearly 20 years. As readers of NCVER research know this is a huge resource. However people with projects ready might be more interested in the workshop on writing research proposals-no point having data without dollars.

Another research alert from the UoQ

The University of Queensland’s long trawl through papers by Bruce Murdoch and Caroline Barwood as part of a research misconduct investigation has led to another retraction. The International Journal of Speech Language Pathology has retracted a 2013 paper by the pair, “due to an issue regarding authorship and intellectual property.” The university says it expects the journal to retract another article. The inquiry wheels grind slowly at UoQ but they grind exceedingly fine.

Not so super start

Yesterday might not have been the best start date for Australian Super (a fund run by big industry and unions) to launch its Kick Start campaign, aimed at students. Kick Start is running a raffle with six chances for students to, well, kick start their careers with overseas study trips; to Milan for fashion, Finland and Romania for animal welfare, photography in Myanmar, business in New York, sustainability in Nepal and media/journalism in Atlanta (home to CNN and NBC). For reasons I cannot see (other than it is a great opportunity), RMIT is promoting it hard. Good-oh students, are future super investors but marketing costs money, a point well made by Jim Minifie whose Grattan Institute report, released on Monday, estimates the generality of super fund members pay fees which are three times the median OECD rate.

Art of the Pozible

Deakin University staff are crowd sourcing again, using agency Pozible to raise funds for a research project. The new effort builds on six of eight successful campaigns last year which raised $100 000 for research projects. How Deakin did it is outlined in a debrief by Deb Verhoeven, Stuart Palmer, Joyce Seitzinger and Melanie Randall. The new project is a survey to assess how people with diabetes perceive prejudice. “Most people with diabetes tell us that, in general, they feel well-supported by those closest to them. But it only takes a few isolated incidents to have a negative impact,” researchers Jessica Brown and Adriana Ventura say. So is this enough of a problem for people to kick in $5000? It will be if it resonates with a social media community – the key to raising money.

The shape of things to come?

US private provider Kaplan announces a super special, “10 per cent off Texas Real Estate licence course.”

Incomplete comparisons

The February international student numbers are out and they are ambiguous again. Earlier this month figures from the feds for January showed total year on year numbers for higher and vocational education were marginally down. The baddish news was discounted because the sample was small. February university enrolments were up 2.5 per cent on Feb ‘13 but commencements declined 2.8 per cent. However the government points out 22 universities started semester in February 2013, compared to 16 this year. “A comprehensive picture of first semester 2014 for higher education is not expected until the release of March data,” the feds suggest.

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