TEQSA keeps uni finances secret

Plus a blue at ANU and what about a national approach to ATAR information

That is an ex policy

Want to know why deregulated degrees are as dead as a Norwegian Blue? The Labor Party machine is asking supporters for $478 (no, CMM has no idea) each to fund advertisements warning “$100k degrees will become a reality if Mr Turnbull is re-elected.” Whatever Education Minister Simon Birmingham has in mind for his election campaign policy paper it isn’t price competition in higher education.

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Cash trumps tradition

Newman College at the University of Melbourne makes much of its Walter Burley Griffin designed building, which “reflects and fosters,” its traditions. Like his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright, WBG designed furniture to suit his buildings but it seems there is only so much reflecting and fostering a college needs so Newman is selling two pairs of WBG designed chairs. Leonard Joel will auction them on Thursday, with a price guide of $8000 a pair.

TEQSA’s not telling

Government grants and programmes account for $18.08bn, or 56 per cent of all higher education provider revenue, for universities it is 91 per cent, according to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in a report on the financial performance of HE institutions, released yesterday. According to TEQSA it is “committed to ensuring that stakeholders in Australia’s higher education sector have access to relevant information to enable and better inform decision making.”

Except that “stakeholders” does not include taxpayers who the agency excludes from financial information on how universities and other providers are performing. TEQSA has the data, its report sets out the performance of every institution it regulates – but it does not name them.

This is less outrageous than unconscionable (CMM April 4). All Australians have a right to know how efficiently public monies are being spent. Yes those with the ability and inclination to comb public university annual reports, those of auditor generals and the Commonwealth department of education can find the information TEQSA has compiled – but this will be done by as many as no people at all.

According to its act, TEQSA is supposed “to ensure students undertaking, or proposing to undertake, higher education, have access to information relating to higher education in Australia,” but apparently this does not include basic measures of financial performance.

Many of which are very interesting indeed. Like the identity of the TAFE providing higher education that had a 2013-14 net loss of 30 per cent. Like the university that made a 15 per cent profit, compared to a median of 6.1 per cent. And how for-profit non-university higher education providers have a mean EBITDA of 16.6 per cent, 5 per cent higher than universities. Or why one institution with 20 000 plus students spends 46 per cent of earnings on employee benefits and another 59 per cent.

As to anonymity, TEQSA explains;

“for many providers financial data is commercial-in-confidence; as such, information in this report has been presented in an aggregated, de-identified manner. The analysis and key metrics presented in this report allow users, in particular existing higher education providers, to better understand how their entity’s financial performance on key financial metrics compares with other similar providers and the sector more broadly.”

This is nonsense on stilts, taxpayers have a right to know how institutions are spending public funds and TEQSA should publish identifiable data on all of them.

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North Terrace bound

Flinders PVC International Nancy Cromar is travelling north up South Road, to do the same job at the University of Adelaide. This is a much-needed win for UoA, which wants to expand international sales and needs a stretch of stability in its business. Flinders U is yet to start a public recruitment process.

What wont work in Warrnambool

The National Tertiary Education Union is escalating its engagement with the largely grassroots campaign to continue a university campus at Warrnambool, where Deakin U is closing down. The union is petitioning federal minister Simon Birmingham to keep it open. The problem is Deakin is going and no other institution shows any sign of coming. The obvious contender is regional network Federation U but it is a dual sector provider, which the local TAFE might not welcome. Given Deakin U says there is not enough demand for higher education in Warrnambool a deal where TAFE articulates students into Fed U might leave the university in the same situation as Deakin is now, with TAFE completers not moving into higher education.

Get in quick

Anybody keen to work with international education minister Richard Colbeck on the government’s imminent strategy could be disappointed if there is a double dissolution. The minister is in the dicey fifth on the Liberal Party senate ticket for Tasmania

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Uniform ATAR information

ANU’s Marnie Hughes Warrington says while her university is transparent, on ATARs, “at ANU the score is the score,” working out what gets you into some others isn’t easy. “For students whose families have never been to university. It can be very, very daunting.”

She has a solution, a very Canberra solution, suggesting on ABC Radio there, universities should step up and create a national entry site, “so that students can find information on the programs of all the universities in one place and a transparent listing of the bonus points so they know ‘if I’ve got this score and I’ve got this number then I am guaranteed to get into that programme.’ ” … “At the moment the different admission centres are the responsibility of the universities, and I expect that the responsibilities of moving towards a fairer, transparent national system are also our responsibilities.”

CMM wonders whether anybody from the Higher Education Standards Panel, now inquiring into the ATAR was listening.

Easily inflated

A reader experienced in the ways of university head counting isn’t surprised that La Trobe U and the campus branch of the NTEU differ on how many jobs will go when the university print shop shuts (CMM yesterday). In the reader’s case staff numbers were inflated by including admin people putting mail in pigeon holders (readers under 60 ask a passing veteran what this means). The task was completed in a matter of moments but was still counted as a fraction of their workload – thus increasing FTEs that did not exist by a factor of three. Sound unlikely? When CMM asked universities why casual strength reported to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency swung wildly from year to year it all came down to reporting dates and staff definition.

A blue at ANU

The dispute over the restructure of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language escalated last night with opponents releasing a  major statement opposing the change. In particular they argue that full financial information supports their argument that the school’s circumstances can become sustainable.

“Staff are glad that they have the figures and financial modelling needed to propose a viable alternative structure, but they are yet to see whether the long-term vision will triumph over the short-sighted approach adopted by the college managers. It is not too late for Brian Schmidt to turn back this impending disaster, and plot a course for his term as vice chancellor that truly serves to promote and reward excellence within the ranks of his university.”

Back in 2012Staff told former VC Ian Young the same thing about the music school restructures, which is still unsettled.

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Who will have the numbers

The Productivity Commission has released the  issues paper for its inquiry into the national evidence base for school education. CMM (March 15) suggested this gives education faculties an opportunity to shine – although if they had led the debate on measuring spending and outcomes in the first place there would not be a job for the PC to do. According to the commission, universities received $350m in funding for research into school education in 2012 but if there was ever chance to make the case for a national body to report on school outcomes this is the education research establishment’s chance to make it.

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