Uni Tasmania’s marvellous MOOCs

Plus do your block chain over credit transfer and Uni Adelaide kicks goals 

Perhaps it was a compliment

“Terrifying and kind of weird,” is how Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne on TV yesterday described Donald Trump’s campaign. But what would The Donald say about The Christopher?

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MOOCs of the morning

The University of Tasmania announces its MOOC on marine and Antarctic science has cracked 10 000 starters over two years (it runs every month). What is especially impressive is that 23 per cent of them have completed all the assessment tasks required for an attainment certificate. The MOOC has also put the university on the map for a mass of people who otherwise may never have heard of it – some 60 per cent of students are from overseas (and that does not mean the large-ish island to the north).

Another UoT major MOOC is also packing them in. Dealing with Dementia has run four times, with around a total 70 000 starters. Completions for the first three times the course was offered were in the mid 30 per cent range, ranging to 45 per cent for the fourth in August-November next year.

Distance lends enchantment

Ian Jacobs is not a man who mucks around. A couple of weeks back the UNSW VC announced 500 “fully funded” PhD scholarships plus 130 new jobs for research stars as part of his ten year plan to make the university a world top 50 research university. Now the university is inviting researchers to register interest in the jobs. The e-information package is pitched to people who don’t know Sydney, sending a signal which must encourage local UNSW up and comers no end.

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Uni Adelaide’s big win

Finally, a ranking which the University of Melbourne does not dominate. On Wednesday the University of Adelaide football team thumped UoM by 88 points. Good thing only us and the Irish (sort of) play AFL otherwise the ratings agencies would be on to this one already.

Hanging on to the talent

The Victorian Government has released its international education strategy, which commits to increasing, improving, enhancing, all sorts of things – proactively. But a reader who rarely misses anything points to one super-smart strategy buried deep in the document.

“Retain talent with advanced knowledge, skills and experience in priority occupations via state nominations for skilled migration visas, including nomination of any student who completes a PhD at a Victorian university, subject to meeting requirements.”

“It’s a good contribution to keeping the smartest PhD students in Australia after they complete,” the reader points out.

Happy with HELP

If there was ever case for a conservative PM introducing peerages it is our obligation to honour Bruce Chapman for HECS ( Count Chapman of Acton? Baron Bruce of Burley Griffin?).

What we take for granted is a wonder of the policy world, demonstrated by this comprehensively researched (a couple of errors admitted) elegantly written US feature on Australian student funding.

For an Australian audience what it does demonstrate is how little students here worry about the cost of their courses thanks to income contingent loans. So if students weren’t who was listening to the Nationally Tertiary Education Union’s politically brilliant “$100k degree campaign” that derailed deregulation? Their parents is who – and they will listen again if the government tried to reintroduce them.

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Unshackling credit transfer

Don’t do your blocks over Marnie Hughes-Warrington’s proposal for a global credit transfer system – you will need to chain them up to make it work. The ANU DVC’s March essay in her series on higher education management for the new century makes the case for a standardised credit transfer system to replace the existing non-process which can come down to what an academic in university A thinks about a course in institution B.

“While we might have the equivalent of free trade agreements across university systems, decisions on granting credit still rest with individual institutions, even individual staff members. It is like asking a local car manufacturer to decide whether imported cars are cars, and not insisting that they explain their decision.”

The way to fix the problem is to turn credit transfer into a transparent process using a block chain, where a university publicly states what it will credit and accordingly must honour when students ask, at least until it publicly changes policy. “Transparency of credit record and dynamism in that record are the key.” Professor Hughes-Warrington argues.

Yes a block chain, as in what Bitcoin runs on. And when you get your heads around that you will be ready for the next bit – a market in credit transfer. Conventional agreements between systems for transfer systems do not work because there is “no fixed value in credit.”

But, she suggests a market in credit can fix that.

“I can see credit being traded, not just transferred. If MOOCs have supported the rise of machine marking, they can also support the rise of machine plus human decision credit transfer, recorded in transparent block chains that can change over time as credit is traded. So picture a time when there is a credit market, and we can see fluctuations in credit transfer values that reflect supply and demand,” she writes.

This Hughes-Warrington suggests, with admirable understatement, may be “deeply confronting.” “But the only truly confronting thing about credit transfer is how little traction we have gained in addressing the issue over a long time. A shift in focus away from end user deficit towards transparency and dynamism might be just the change we need. We have a supply chain problem that we need to fix.”

Now for the hard part

The committee to oversight research impact and engagement (CMM March 10) met in Canberra yesterday, which means work will soon be underway on the metrics to incorporate research impact and engagement into the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia 2018.

Flinders charts a new course

Flinders University opens its $63m hub on the hill this morning. The student plaza and open learning facility at Bedford Park sets the tone as the university approaches its 50th anniversary next week. “The Hub’s cutting-edge design is influenced by the latest research, which demonstrates that the best education occurs when students learn from each other – discussing, challenging, debating and testing ideas, Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling says.

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What price Warrnambool

The National Tertiary Education Union has joined the campaign to keep a higher education campus in Warrnambool after Deakin departs. “Closing the Warrnambool facility, which is one of the biggest employers of professionals in the region, won’t just hurt Deakin staff. It will have a huge flow on effect to the local community, both in terms of how it defines itself, and within the local economy, Kerry Saville, the union’s Deakin branch president says.

Good-o, but what is to be done? Nobody has a specific proposal for what should happen next – Deakin in particular is not coping the caning Swinburne U did when it announced it was closing Lilydale. The obvious and easy answer is for regional Victoria network Federation University to take over, but all its VC, David Battersby, will say is; “FedUni has been buoyed by the level of support it has received to play a role in Warrnambool and is continuing to talk with Deakin University and the state and federal governments about the possibilities.” It will be interesting to see who turns up at the public meeting local federal member Dan Tehan, (Liberal-Wannon) will  host tonight. But given Mr Tehan held the seat in 2013 with 53.7 per cent of the primary vote CMM can’t see any announcement of an infusion of Canberra cash.

Low profile here, big deal there

The S P Jain School of Global Management has a low profile compared to the self-promoters of the Sydney biz ed club, which strikes CMM as strange. Based at Olympic Park the TEQSA accredited school attracts international students and is a big enough deal in India for Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to want to visit.

Mr Jaitley will be on campus with an Indian business delegation on March 29. It should do wonders for the school’s reputation there, and lead to biz educators here realising they have a international competitor on their patch.

Evocca closes campuses

Private training provider Evocca yesterday announced the same-day closure of 16 campuses (another is to go in May) and sacked 220 of 770 staff. Chief Executive Craig White said it is due to a drop in demand caused by more stringent course entry rules and a cap on government loans. Evocca says 9 per cent of students are effected and they can study at another campus or online.

That will be the Evocca which made a submission to the Senate inquiry into VET FEE HELP last year, calling for a reduction in the repayment threshold and arguing for “better regulation,” (which) “will also protect the operation and reputation of the majority of quality VET providers who provide quality education but have otherwise lost credibility as a result of misleading and sometimes mischievous reporting of the facts.” (CMM November 26 2015).  CMM suspects yesterday’s announcement speaks for itself.

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