Universities Australia’s successful sell

Except to the NTEU plus the funding debate starts to take shape

Support for when Simon says

Simon “softly softly” Birmingham has lost media adviser Caitlin Keaghe who is moving up to the PMO. As training minister the senator was consistent and concise, comprehensive and credible with the media. This takes talent but also requires good staff work. He has the former and will need the latter even more now he is education portfolio minister.

UniMelb water

NTEU neither forgiving nor forgetting

The various higher education lobbies all think University Australia president Barney Glover’s call for a bipartisan commitment to fund a higher education as a national resource is a splendid idea. But the National Tertiary Education Union is suspicious about what universities want; “the NTEU has never understood why vice chancellors were such strong supporters of the Liberal Government’s unprincipled, unfair and unsustainable higher education polices, NTEU national president Jeannie Rea said in response to Professor Glover’s press club speech (CMM yesterday).

“Today vice chancellors exposed their unwillingness to take a principled stand and show strong leadership in opposing undergraduate fee deregulation. Instead vice chancellors have been found fluttering in the breeze waiting to see which way the new minister’s approach to higher education heads over coming months.”

There’s never any faulting the union for frankness. Given universities have abandoned deregulation this may not be fair but the union is not going to give up the “$100k degrees” campaign just yet.

ANU Sept 15

Sloan success

Scott Sloan is having a great run. The University of Newcastle geotechnical engineer is a newly appointed fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, adding this to fellowships of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science (CMM September 30). And last night Professor Sloan was appointed NSW Scientist of the Year. He’s the third Uni Newcastle researcher to win the award in the last four years.

Uni Canberra not commenting

Back in the winter the University of Canberra suspended a staffer without pay following student allegations (CMM July 22). The university announced it had offered students counselling but otherwise would not comment. UC still isn’t talking- beyond announcing yesterday that after a misconduct inquiry the individual involved was dismissed and is now charged by the police with criminal offences allegedly committed against students.

Debate watch

Universities Australia is taking an olympian attitude to the new funding debate, explaining why its members need more money but not suggesting who should supply it. But less than a week after Simon “softly softly” Birmingham said he was open to ideas on funding plenty of people are already obliging.

Like Australian Catholic University VC Greg Craven (in The Australian) who, in his usual understated way got stuck into the “Bunyip Harvards” of the Group of Eight for demanding ever more money. Professor Craven did not endorse, but certainly mentioned a deregulatory taper, where the more universities raise their own fees the less public money they get.

Andrew Norton, fluent in both policy and politics, suggests reducing student subsidies and regulated fee deregulation; “The Liberals are still committed to making non-university higher education providers more accessible, by extending tuition subsidies to their students. Some additional fee flexibility for public universities would create a consistent diversity and choice message. This can be done without abolishing all limits on what public universities can charge their students,” he says in the AFR.

Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson makes plain what she does not want, “no attempt at higher education ‘reform’ that is built around a straight-up funding cut of 20% can be justified,” but offers nothing on where new money should come from.

Richard James (Uni Melbourne) and Leo Goedegebuure Institute (L H Martin) (in The Australian) invoke Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, (regulators need a large variety of actions to have a small range of potential outcomes). They call for “a farsighted vision for the character of the tertiary education sector” based on “explicit institutional differentiation” before anybody starts talking about funding. Sounds like dismantling Dawkins to CMM. “A tough gig for a young minister in Simon Birmingham, perhaps, but equally the kind of challenge a reforming politician ought to be willing to embrace,” they suggest. But only if he is confident of being minister for the two or three terms this would take.

CRC for Kung Fu Pandas

CRC Association chief Tony Peacock on the global search for a model for research-industry cooperation; “everyone is seeking the ‘secret sauce’ that brings industry and academia together to turbocharge their national rate of innovation. It doesn’t matter if you are an emerging country with a very low patenting rate like Vietnam or the powerhouse that is Germany, no country is satisfied that they have things exactly right”.

HES HECQN electronic banner 01-10-15

Drilling down

Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group uses the methodologies the rating agencies reveal to drill down into their data and report universities precise positions. She has now run the numbers on the Times Higher ranking released last week, which is especially interesting in the cases of universities that are only listed in bands, as the published figures do not show where they are relative to each other. It also allows her to rate Australian universities, individual and in total on key attributes, in the THE case, teaching research and internationalisation.

According to Ms Colvin, big winners this year are James Cook, Flinders, Griffith and La Trobe, which all move into the Australian top 20, but the biggest achiever is Charles Darwin which is equal tenth in Australia, with QUT. In general she suggests that this is due to THE’s adoption of Elsevier Scopus, which includes HASS disciplines, replacing Thomson Reuters as citation source, which helps all Australian universities. But as to Charles Darwin, Ms Colvin suggests that a strong citation rate among a relatively small research community accounts for its achievement.

Across the board Australian institutions did very well on internationalisation, measured on international staff and students to domestic ratios and papers with offshore co-authors, averaging 78.1 compared to 45 for all the global top 800. The first 20 Australian universities were also above both mean and median citation scores. However the national reputation for teaching is not terrific, with only ANU, Uni Melbourne and Uni Sydney ahead of mean and mediums for the top 200. With half the teaching score based on a survey of academics Ms Colvin suggests, “we are yet to achieve a great reputation for teaching among peers.”

Confidence

Economic with information

Last month the Economics Society of Australia announced it would ask a panel of notable members (nearly all blokes) their professional opinion on an issue of the hour (CMM August 26). The first poll asked whether ending existing GST exemptions was a better way of raising revenue than increasing the overall rate without changing the application of the tax. The economists split 54 per cent in favour of ending exemptions and 36 per cent opposed (9 per cent are uncertain). The summary reasons most presented are an excellent guide to the debate for people who aren’t economists. So what does the ESA do? Not promote the survey to the general audience who will appreciate it, is what. Not to worry anybody interested can find it here .

Yes they do have bananas

The Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong is promoting a soup and film night – with a picture of a banana. Perhaps the movie is Woody Allen’s 1971 classic of the same name, unless the soup is very yellow.

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