What students rate in rankings

Plus opposites agree on post Pyne policy

Great idea!

“The Turnbull Government wants to encourage ideas for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, but they need to be good ideas,” Industry, Science and innovation Minister Christopher Pyne yesterday.

ANU Sept 15

Canberra consensus

No, not on the hill, across the lake, at ANU and Uni Canberra. On Fran Kelly’s RN programme yesterday vice chancellors Ian “the gent” Young and Stephen “renaissance prince” Parker were furious – in agreement.

Yes, the VC who led the deregulation charge as chair of the Group of Eight and the only one VC who publicly opposed the Pyne package were approving of some of each other’s opinions. In particular, they both liked Labor’s proposed higher education commission. “A disparate rational actor is needed” Professor Parker said. “A buffer body to help universities (with their missions) would be a good element at the present time,” Professor Young agreed.

Professor Young added optimism to his usual equanimity suggesting that there may still be a gift in the unwrapped Pyne package; the need to properly fund research without universities having to subsidise it from funds for teaching is now understood. “Fund research properly and you take away the perverse incentive to enrol students who may not be as prepared as you would want them to be,” he said.

Granted, “we got here in a convoluted manner,” but there may be a major party consensus on funding research and students, the gent added.

NZ leads the way

If you think the National Tertiary Education Union takes a broad view of its brief consider the Kiwi comrades. In the shaky isles the Tertiary Education Union is part of a coalition backing a High Court challenge against the government’s refusal to release information on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement trade treaty. “TEU believes the TPPA could harm tertiary education, by further opening up New Zealand’s public education system to privatisation and competition,” the union says.

Predictable tastes

A couple of years back Netflix went past 40 per cent of North American prime time Internet use. Who knows what the figure is now but it certainly seems there is an insatiable demand for on-line movies – after all, how can anyone have a fulfilled life without having Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Sparrow meets the Minions instantly available? The same will happen here for sure with a million Netflix subscribers already. The NBN is surely bound to jack up its prices to fund demand before most people are connected.

Perhaps not, if research by the University of Newcastle’s Dr Lawrence Ong connects. Dr Ong is working on ways of “prefetching” content, downloading movies and whatever other data is in demand, in low traffic times so everything is ready to go when people log on. Providers would select content based on users’ consumption patterns, in the same way as Spotify’s algorithms have a scarily good idea of what new music we will like. It should work, after all people who like pirate and minion movies will watch pretty much anything.

ANU Sep 15 1

Losing Lee a loss

Where have the Greens gone? When Senator Lee Rhiannon spoke for the Greens on higher education they were all over the deregulation debate, but the party has not been around to collect its share of the glory since leader Richard Di Natale shuffled her out of education in favour of incoming senator from South Australia, Robert Simms, (CMM September 16). Senator Simms announced his arrival last week, saying he was keen to work with staff and students and yesterday added that as a former Flinders staffer he wanted to “stop Lomborg and respect academic integrity.” He also reports talking to the NTEU about “about the Coalition‘s failed plan for $100k degrees,” announcing “higher education is an investment in our future, not a cost to be shifted onto students and staff.” Good-oh, but the union thought that already. No wonder Labor people are looking so chipper this week, the Greens are handing higher education back to them.

Investing in education

Before shonks in for-profit training became the scandal de jour, crook financial planners used to regularly pop up in the press, (here’s how CMM covered the problem just after the South Sea Bubble crisis). The need to lift the industry’s standards and skills is a major opportunity for universities to expand specialist courses in financial planning in cooperation with provider associations, but higher education seems slow to take it up. As CMM suggested in January, “financial planning in universities is where it was six years ago, an embarrassing child of a loveless marriage between accounting schools and business deans who like the income but do not want to spend too much time on the people who provide it.”

But not at Griffith U, which has long-time links with the industry as a supplier of courses and bespoke training. And now Griffith has a new arrangement with AMP to provide prospective advisors with “foundation knowledge” they will need to seek certified and chartered qualifications.

Ratings rate with students

A week out from the Times Higher conference at the University of Melbourne competitor QS has coincidentally released a new report on what prospective students want to know about institutions.

And it is not what universities like to boast about. QS focus groups and a survey found teaching quality, reputation with employers and graduate employment are the big three, followed by student satisfaction and course cost. Just 28 per cent valued a university’s research reputation.

While the report points to the importance people place on rankings QS credibly and creditably also emphasises students interested in international study use them in conjunction with other data and are aware of their limitations. “(The) demand for program-level comparisons is a key factor in the popularity of subject-specific rankings, and the students we spoke to welcomed ongoing extensions to such resources, while also expressing demand for even more granular comparisons based on specific programs,” the report states. This is good for QS as it looks for more products universities will advertise in, but it also makes the case for not-for-profit providers that look to compare institutions with the same/similar discipline profiles, notably the still growing U-Multirank.

And as for critics who claim ratings are meaningless, that argument is lost with students contemplating moving countries for overseas study. For them “rankings appeal predominantly as a time-saving tool offering a reliable guide to institutional reputation, which is particularly valued as a gauge of future employment prospects.”

criterion update

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