Does the government want universities to be well run and efficient organisations or not? asks the Innovative Research  group


What’s the difference as similar universities have the same marketing messages

Flinders staffs up with new management appointments


and TAFE  troubled with unis set to expand in diploma market


No sweat

Virtual reality games are actually exercise, according to University of Sydney researchers. Apparently playing Fruit Ninja flat-out is like going for walk, Hot Squats is comparable to running and Holopoint to dancing. (No, these are not university security team codenames for vice chancellors.) So, what about couch surfing? Surely it gets points for safety, what with no chance of drowning.

Long fuse

The fiscal bomb disposal squad has the surprising news that they have checked out the Birmingham package and that what universities see is what they will get, at least when it comes to money.

People who know their way around a budget statement say there is nothing in Minister Birmingham’s announcement that will blow an unexpected hole in university finances in a couple of years, that the $2.8bn cut is it. In fact, one steady handed, long skilled expert skilled in finding nasty financial surprises hidden in forward estimates suggests the minister has done a lot of work to cut less than $3bn, from an estimated deficit of $38.3bn.

It’s as if, this unflappable analyst suggests, that Senator Birmingham cut to keep his cabinet colleagues happy and create a diversion for what he really wanted to do – push through discrete but significant reforms.

There are certainly a bunch of moves that will explode existing arrangements over time, notably a contestable pool of 7.5 per cent of each university’s Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding, what is in effect a voucher system for Commonwealth supported masters courses, more sub-degree places for universities and the first hint of a move to teaching-only universities.

The other day University of Sydney vice chancellor Michael Spence told ABC Radio that the Birmingham package was a “disaster averted,” referring to Christopher Pyne’s past plan to cut public funding by 20 per cent and leave it to universities to make up the loss by charging students extra fees.  True enough, but there are explosive changes to come, they will just take a while.

TEQSA staffs-up

TEQSA is staffing up with four additions to Karen Treloar’s engagement portfolio. Higher education media veteran Dorothy Iling becomes assistant director, engagement. Raphael May (who started in March) is assistant comms director. Poppy Bervanakis is events and marketing manager and Felicity Gianatti (also already in place) manages contact with professional bodies.


Venerable humour

Heard at the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association conference dinner in Sydney last night from president and CSU VC Andrew Vann; “What do we want? Incremental change! When do we want it? Phased in over time with an appropriate period of consultation.”  Gosh, CMM hasn’t heard that one since Cardinal Newman‘s idea of a university address in 1852 but it was new to the audience who laughed.


Bad sign in the budget sky

The federal government’s plan to increase diploma places in universities is upsetting the TAFE lobby. “The proposed expansion would skew toward a university place, rather than a high quality vocational place at TAFE, which has a deep history of delivery to industry standards with strong employment outcomes,” TAFE Directors Australia CEO Craig Robertson says.

Slicing off critical parts of TAFE and handing them to the university sector is not the way to approach tertiary reform and could adversely impact TAFE, particularly in regional Australia.”

Mr Robertson adds TDA wants “to work with the government about the basis of approval for these courses.”

With the VET student loan mess sorted has the federal government lost interest in training?  We will know on budget night.

Clever possum

Hugh Possingham from the University of Queensland is a new fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences. Professor Possingham is an ARC Laureate Fellow and researches conservation and biological diversity. No he is not being inducted under his Twitter handle, Huge Possum.

But what does he really think

Staff at the University of Sydney are protesting over “toxic workplaces,” where working lives are very difficult, according to National Tertiary Education Union campus president Kurt Iveson.

According to Dr Iveson, job insecurity, casual employment and short-term contracts are part of the problem. The protest is “in the context” of enterprise bargaining – which is interesting. Working conditions and the use of casual staff are emerging as a bigger issue than pay.

Flinders team forming-up

The new management structure at Flinders U is being assembled with two PVCs to start in July. Deborah West joins as PVC for learning and teaching innovation and Michele Fleming becomes PVC for student life.

Professor West joins from Charles Darwin U, where she is director of teaching and learning. Professor Fleming is now dean of students at the University of Canberra. These are new roles reporting to DVC Students Clare Pollock.

Perverse incentive

The Innovative Research Universities group has slammed the government for using the Deloitte report on university financial performance to claim the system can absorb proposed cuts (CMM Tuesday). “The assertion that universities have been so effective in containing costs in recent years that they should be rewarded with reduced revenue begs the question whether the government wants universities to be well run efficient organisations or not?

“Universities generate all the funds needed to modernise through annual surpluses that are invested in future services.  To generate surpluses universities have had to impose tight efficiencies on the number of staff and ongoing support for students,” the IRU argues.

As executive director Conor King put it yesterday, “the intersection of accounting standards and funding policy is rarely useful.”

CDO departs

Conrad Mackenzie has resigned as chief digital officer at UNSW “due to health matters” and leaves tomorrow. Matt Scolari will act during recruiting for a successor.

Performance indicators

There isn’t much in the Birmingham package the NTEU likes but the canny comrades never miss a chance to make their case, suggesting criteria to use in the government’s foreshadowed contestable funding pool. “Indicators (should) include measures such as staff to student ratios, and metrics which map the proportion of teaching undertaken by casual staff,” the union argued yesterday.

Unique, in the same way

With students to pay more the pressure is on university marketers to best present their brands. But Mark Drechsler wonders how they will do it given what similar institutions promote  can appear indistinguishable. To see where they are starting from the Flinders University student services manager analysed 20 universities online positioning to prospective students. He found that research and an international focus are the two big ideas but that different providers have different emphases.

Thus Group of Eight institutions go hard on their research and rankings record, also promoting their international focus. Three of the four in his sample, “are nigh-on identicalMr Drechsler writes.

Universities established in the ‘60s sell on these same attributes’ although they go easy on announcing their rankings.

The technology sector also sells on being clever and cosmopolitan, but added attributes of their own, using “technology,” “industry” and “relevant” in their branding.

In contrast, the regionals accept the inevitable and present themselves as community focused and providing support for students. Four private providers also eschew support, with two taking the regional route and talking up their students’ experience and two pitching their international connections.

“Have all universities ‘homogenised’ in their market positioning in 2017?,” Mr Drechsler asks. “Clearly not,” he replies  – suggesting an emphasis on research is at one pole, and student experience at the other.

Fair enough, although CMM suggests that universities that sell on the same things have all but interchangeable creative.