Swinburne’s Kristjanson: what we have is working

Expansive opiniators

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia will hold a forum on higher education funding options (which “remain elusive”) in Sydney today. The panellists are vice chancellors Attila Brungs, (UTS), Barney Glover (UWS), Caroline McMillen (Newcastle), Paul Wellings (Wollongong), Ian Young (ANU) and Jill Trewhella (DVC R, Sydney). Cynics wonder how CEDA will find space for so many big egos on the platform, but what can you expect from cynics?

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Successful status quo

The Times Higher top 100 universities under 50 rating is out this morning and it is very popular indeed with the many Australian universities that did well, especially because, for once, the Group of Eight has to shut up.

Swinburne, unlisted last year storms in at 65. And UTS rocketed up the ranking, from 47 to 21. UWS did well, rising 31 spots to 56th and demonstrating that John Dewar’s restructure is working, La Trobe, which just made the cut last year, is up 25 places to 75th. Edith Cowan U and RMIT are both newcomers to the list at 90 and 97 respectively.

All up, 16 Australian institutions are listed, the largest national contingent. However we do not crack the top 10 per cent, which consists of young universities from Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

As with the QS subject rankings (CMM yesterday) these numbers can mean whatever commentators want – “the Australian system is in good shape and should not be deregulated,” “imagine what they could accomplish if there was a free market,” and “we will be overwhelmed by Asia without more money” are all being argued this morning.

But I’m guessing Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson spoke for the emerging orthodoxy when she told CMM, “this should provide policy makers with confidence that Australia’s system of higher education is of world class. It should also cause us to continue to critically evaluate proposed changes, which would radically alter the policy and funding settings on which this success has been built.”

Enterprise disagreement

At present pace Southern Cross University will finally have an enterprise agreement when the early universities are gearing up to negotiate their next ones. Tomorrow National Tertiary Education Union members will picket SCU campuses to protest at the pay and conditions on offer from management. “The strike is an attempt to force the university’s management to offer pay and conditions that are standard across the sector,” the union says. So much for negotiating according to local circumstances. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

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Lomborg up in lights

The argument over Bjorn Lomborg’s scholarly record misses one point. Citations aside, his work would really rate on any engagement measure and certainly has blockbuster impact.

More please

The Regional Universities Network submission to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s inquiry into needs of cities which are the “capitals” of their regions makes the points RUN always makes. Higher education participation rates in the bush lag cities, regional universities have high research profiles in disciplines that matter to their communities and they need more money. It also runs the perennially popular parish pump argument that regional universities are good things because they employ people and kick money into their communities. “RUN universities contributed $2.1 billion in gross domestic product in 2011, $1.2 billion in household income and more than 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs to the Australian economy. By way of comparison, this is equivalent to the economic impact of the Australian fishing industry in 2011. RUN universities are commonly one of the most significant employers in their respective towns and regions.” Good-oh, but this rather makes them sound more like regional development programmes that should be supported because they help keep local economies afloat. Perhaps this is why RUN points out that despite all their achievements they get no money from the regional development budget

Tough numbers

The $22m the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute has from BHP to encourage young women into maths (CMM yesterday) seems like quite a bucket of money, until you consider the crunched numbers. Just 12.6 per cent of male maths students take advanced mathematics, which is bad. But it is better than the 6.6 per cent of females, a figure which has gradually down since 2006. And without more qualified women teaching senior high school maths and encouraging their female students it will not easily change. Thus AMSI intends to spend the dosh on public awareness campaigns on why women needs maths and maths needs women, on curriculum specialists working on professional development in 120 primary and secondary schools and a women in maths awards programme. Put like that it does not seem like much money and with five years to make a difference AMSI does not have much time.

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Brilliant brand extension

A couple of weeks back a report from Harvard University was modest about the achievements of its MOOCs (CMM April 9), suggesting they were contributing to curriculum development. Perhaps the university was reducing expectations to make an announcement this week the more impressive (with thanks to Alex Usher for the tip). And it is impressive indeed. Harvard Business School will provide its Credentials of Readiness programme to students at elite liberal arts college Amherst. CORe provides three online courses, in business analytics, management economics and financial accounting. “CORe allows students to continue to pursue their other intellectual passions in college, whatever these may be, from art history or psychology to music or biochemistry.”

A Harvard MBA, CORe isn’t but it does provide demonstrable biz ed experience from one of the world’s most prestigious brands. Harvard says arrangements with other colleges are coming.

At US$1800 this will not make Harvard rich (but then, it already is). However it extends the brand without the risks of compromising quality that come from licensing content. MOOCs may yet be big business

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