Unhappy HEPPP review

Universities unhappy with the review of equity funding

plus bureaucracy by the book at La Trobe

and a journal fraud straight from the bunker

Muffin misery

“Hungry on Cumberland campus? Support mental health awareness at Depressed Cake Shop today,” the University of Sydney urged its Twitter followers yesterday. Nothing says despair like a cake too miserable to rise.

Wed August 24

Unhappy HEPPP

There is deep disquiet in universities with the way the feds are overseeing the outsourced review of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme, (CMM August 31). For a start the inquiry is selective, with a by-invitation approach to in-person contact and a template for submissions, which appear to have an outcome in mind, for example; “how have projects funded by the National Priorities Pool component of the HEPPP supported more effective implementation of the HEPPP nationally and at an institutional level?” And people are uncomfortable with the request for comprehensive information on students via Commonwealth Higher Education Support Numbers. This is as inept as it is intrusive, university support services do not necessarily collect IDs of kids who come in to counselling. CMM hears institutions invited to participate in the process are ignoring this request for data, despite assurances that no individual will be identifiable.

Submissions closed yesterday and few are holding their breath for anything other than a report that calls for slimmer and cheaper HEPPP (details on peak lobby subs below).

End of an ERA

Aidan Byrne leaves the Australian Research Council today. The outgoing chair will be missed by staff, present and past both.

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Incompetent counterfeit

Thanks to a learned reader who warns against journal fraudsters who have appropriated the name of the entirely reputable Journal of Marketing Management. So what gives the bodgy one away? Little things, the reader warns, like a call for papers coming from some bloke called Adolf Hitler.

The good news is the bad news

Education Minister Simon Birmingham was very pleased with yesterday’s QS rankings; Australian universities “have once again shone on the world stage,” he wrote. Certainly there were “mixed results” but these should encourage everybody to try harder, the senator suggested.

Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight agreed, except for the bit about who should lift their game. Ms Thomson pointed out that while her members led the country, “the fact is that a number of Australian universities have dropped in the rankings,” included six of her members. The result was a message to the government that; “is critical to protect the performance of our universities by high levels of targeted funding. This year’s QS rankings could be a very unwelcome canary in the coalmine.”

Textbook case

La Trobe U library management is making changes to the admin structure, including new job titles, which read like they were found in a lost in the stacks HR textbook . Instead of reporting to the partnerships and campuses manager the quality and comms team now answers to the manager, partnerships and engagement (same bod with a new title). The deputy director learning and teaching is also transformed into the DD learning and engagement. Just brilliant. And then there is the new library business services manager who will integrate uni activities into the library, via finance, ICT, Opps and HR “business partners,” amongst a bunch of other bureaucratic blancmange. “There was a time when university libraries employed librarians. Not any more,” a learned reader despairs.

MOOC of the morning

Comes from Curtin U, which is launching, via edX, “Environmental Studies: a global perspective,” “rather than simply offering a long list of the problems we face, this course will take a solutions-focused approach.”

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IRU backs HEPPP

The Innovative Research Universities points to the achievement of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme in making student-centred funding work. In its response to the inquiry into the programme’s future the IRU advocates continuing targeted HEPP funding and creating a loading attached to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, “to reward enrolment of a diverse student population broadly matching that of Australia.”

HEPP is an important part of the suite of funding to encourage universities to educate Australians from all backgrounds, “ the IRU states.

And before the government considers further cuts for HEPPP it should demonstrate that it has other ideas on how to meet the programme’s objectives. “There is little in the evaluation process to support discussion about whether other options would be a more effective use of the remaining funding.”

The IRU also questions why the review wants universities to submit data when a solid base already exists in work by La Trobe’s Andrew Harvey, which shows HEPPP “activities work in general.” However IRU does see a use for the new data collection, just not one that suits the review’s objectives. The submission suggests releasing all collected data from the middle two quartiles to demonstrate changes in participation.

WSU’s big jump

Western Sydney U was very pleased with itself yesterday,  announcing a hundred place improvement in its QS ranking. But the published league table only shows WSU improving from the 651-700 band last year to the 551-600 band this – which is not necessarily a 100-place lift. CMM assumed he was missing something and first thing yesterday asked WSU for the exact ranks in the two years. And if the university ever tells him he will tell you.

UA backs equity  as is

Peak body Universities Australia is equally adamant that both the outreach and student support functions of HEPPP should remain and not have been subject to budget cuts since it was created in 2009-10. “There is no plausible ‘quick fix’ for improving participation in higher education so effective interventions need to be long-term, UA points out.

UA also explicitly knocks back the possibility of giving equity funding straight to students in the form of scholarships. “Universities are well placed to make decisions about what kinds of projects and assistance – including scholarships – are most effective in supporting access and success among their own prospective and actual students.”

“The basic structure of HEPPP – partnerships, participation and national priorities — is sound and effective and should continue,” UA concludes.

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Lenton to lead

Simon Lenton is the new director of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University. He steps up from his old job as deputy director there.

Eight and UA on-side (up to a point)

The Group of Eight agrees that HEPPP works but opposes one idea out there, that programme access should be restricted by “contrived” threshold of low SES enrolments per university. A threshold, “would have the effect of restricting the level of support available to low SES students irrespective of the university they attend, reducing the choice of providers for low SES students and could create a two tiered university system.”

The Eight also differs from UA in endorsing a scholarship scheme. “A university education should be accessible to all qualified people regardless of their background or circumstance. The overarching policy framework needs to deliver a systemic approach that can attract and help retain students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. There is strong evidence that Commonwealth scholarships are an integral part of this approach and by providing income and other support, have a retention effect in their own right.”

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