Closer competition for education exports

Plus Greg Craven’s qualified support for Pyne package

Suitable subject for study

Yesterday’s story list from the University of Melbourne proposed two yarns; Dr Sharika Hussein was available to tell us what “multicultural Australia” thought of John Howard’s Sunday night comments on multiculturalism. The university also hoped for coverage of Tim “we’re all going to fry” Flannery joining Melbourne as a professorial fellow on climate change. In contrast Monash offered no less than ten experts happy to talk about all sorts of football stuff, from player nutrition to their use of social media. However nobody seemed all that interested in who will win the AFL grand final. Perhaps actually knowing about the game is considered a competency rather than research.

Silence in the House

What a dull House of Reps Question Time yesterday. Chris Pyne took only one question (on indigenous education) and Labor did not mention universities at all. The Senate is now where the action is.

Customer focused competitors

Thanks to Canadian higher education consultant Alex Usher for the pointer to new British Council research on university response rates to queries from prospective international students. The research team used “mystery students” to inquire about study at the world’s “top 500 universities”. The findings are fascinating and should strike terror into the hearts of sales directors who think their teams are doing a good enough job – because so is the competition, all over the world.

According to the report students find the Scandinavians, Brits and Benelux universities best at responding to queries. But across the board 57 per cent of all surveyed institutions responded to emails within a day, althugh 21 per cent did not reply at all. The easiest information for students to find themselves is on degrees and email contact; the hardest is on programme accreditation and student endorsements.

The scary news for Australian universities is that their first mover advantage, earned by creating an export industry two decades, back is over, competitors are catching up. On a 100 point total performance score the average was 57, with Australia and New Zealand slightly ahead at 60. But the bad news is that the Brits and Irish were way ahead at 67. The even worse figure is that the US and Canada are nearly level with the Australasians. Given the North Americans have an enormous brand identity advantage this performance level is a problem for competitors. The North Americans also beat everybody else on response times, with 60 per cent of institutions responding to queries within a day. In contrast around 35 per cent of Australian universities matched this. (I wonder if there is a time zone factor at work). But the good news for all exporters is that while China is keen to build an international system it has a long way to go in attracting students, some 64 per cent of contacted universities there did not reply to inquiries sent for this study.

Why ministers can never win

“There really has not been a concerted commitment to funding higher education in Australia since Whitlam”- University of Sydney VC Michael Spence quoted by UofS yesterday. So much for demand driven funding.

Petty strong stuff

In the hermit kingdom that is Flinders the past is present – demonstrated by using a Bruce Petty cartoon from 1971 to promote a seminar tomorrow on political cartooning, (call Joy Tennant at the university if you want to attend). It looks like fun, “where do political cartoons originate from, and have they lost their power to succinctly reveal complex political messages where verbosity and other forms of propaganda fail,” the blurb asks. But why the past Petty? One of the subjects is cartoons in The Australian’s early years (when Mr Petty worked there). “I’ll be taking people back through a strange time warp to the decade when (it) was a disruptively liberal and progressive newspaper, says Flinders Aspro Robert Phiddian. You mean it isn’t now?

Enough to make a kooka laugh

As Murdoch University staff wonder what VC Richard Higgott did to be stood down and if, or when, he will return after the WA corruption commission has considered his case the media team is getting on with business. The big news yesterday was “a novel parasite has been discovered in laughing kookaburras.” In contrast, the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union spoke for the campus community yesterday in a short statement.  “Murdoch needs stable leadership … morale at Murdoch has not been good in recent years and we hope that at the end of this process Murdoch staff will be able to get back to what they do so well, educating young Australians and undertaking high quality research.”

On the record early

The Australian Catholic University’s submission to the Senate higher education deregulation inquiry was published yesterday, presumably so senators know what to ask the university’s VC Greg Craven when he gives evidence this afternoon. Not that there is any ambiguity in the university’s position – which is principled and pragmatic. Principles are provided by the ACU’s support of fee deregulation, although “it is unlikely itself to derive significant direct benefit from fee deregulation.” Pragmatism is presented by ACU’s opposing close to parity funding for private providers. If non-university higher education providers are funded at all it should be at 40 per cent of what universities receive per Commonwealth supported place, not 70 per cent as proposed. With too much cash NUHEPs will take market share in courses, which universities need to cross subsidise less popular degrees, plus research and community services. “As NUHEPs: overwhelmingly do not research; do not have particular community service obligations; and have relatively minimal governance and regulatory burdens to meet, a 60 per cent differential is reasonable,” the submission states.

The university also opposes overall funding cuts per CSP but if the government insists ACU wants tiered reductions as Canberra proposes, rather than a flat 20 per funding cut for all courses. “Such an arrangement would be a major disadvantage to any student undertaking teaching and nursing, where the cost of course provision is relatively low and – critically – future earnings in professions of immense social value are relatively modest. It would in addition directly disadvantage universities, such as ACU, that have in accordance with the policies of successive governments specialised in specific disciplines and do not have the capacity to cross-subsidise their courses in the way that less specialised universities do. ACU naturally would strongly oppose any move to cut Commonwealth funding of disciplines without a concurrent commitment to allow universities to set their own fees.”

In other areas ACU sticks to Universities Australia’s party line, endorsing the all but universal proposal that the CPI remain the interest rate for student loans. And Professor Craven rejects Kim Carr’s much-loved compact model. “Overall, ACU considers that the requirement for a mission based compact has been a very time consuming exercise, with little value to the sector.”

Overall, as widely expected, Professor Craven’s evidence will make the case for, not against, deregulation. As to why he is on by himself today, sorry to disappoint conspiracy theorists – travel plans mean it is his only opportunity.

Greens challenge Labor

Last night Greens education spokesperson Lee Rhiannon alleged Labor will support government plans to freeze indexation of student payments and cut relocation payments for students moving between metro areas to study, thus negating the promise to block increased student costs. Kim Carr’s office referred calls to shadow welfare minister Jenny Macklin whose office requested questions in writing, and then did not respond. But back in June Labor indicated it would support a freeze on indexation of asset tests for student loans, making talk of Labor supporting constraints on payment growth not all that significant. But it does demonstrate the pressure on Labor to take  a hard line against the Pyne plan, lest it lose votes to the Greens.

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