Plus VET FEE really really needs HELP


Whatever the question IMPACT’s the answer

Lock it in

Chris Pyne just ensured all the press gallery guns will want to cover the release of the Innovation Statement on Monday by announcing a 90-minute lockup before its release. Yes journalists loathe lockups but not as much as being outside them. CMM also hears the Senate Economics References Committee report on innovation will be released on Friday but doubts anything will be behind closed doors.

Finally a VC at Murdoch

Eeva Leionen will be the new VC of Murdoch University. She is now DVC Academic at Wollongong, joining from Kings College London in 2012. She replaces acting VC Andrew Taggart who held the place together, no mean feat, for 14 months following the resignation of Richard Higgott after the WA Corruption and Crime Commission announced he was under investigation. CMM thought Professor Taggart did well in appalling circumstances. Here’s hoping the perpetually aggrieved now put the rivalries of the Higgott years behind them.


Either an innovator or an iceberg

When Simon “softly softly” Birmingham took over as education minister he took the heat out of the deregulation debate, saying change in university funding is needed but he wanted a conversation on how to do it. And when the prime minister announced his innovation agenda the temperature of the argument over student fees dropped even further. Minister Birmingham kept it cool in a piece for Universities Australia’s Higher Ed.ition yesterday, in which he talked up innovation.

“Funding is important, but funding alone will not transform our higher education sector. We need to discuss such things as how we use available funding, both public and private investments; how we break down barriers between our higher education sector and industry to capitalise on the economic benefits of research; and how we can reach a consensus on the higher education needs of students, industry and institutions.”

He went on to remind readers that the government is spending $9.7bn on science and innovation, but as for fee deregulation, it was iced – the word did not appear. The senator’s piece was titled, “treading water is not an option,” but that is exactly what it looks like.

Carr warns deregulation still afloat

On the basis of Kim Carr’s case, if there is any ice in the higher education debate it is a bloody big berg with the Turnbull ship of state’s name on it. In UA’s Higher Ed.ition yesterday Labor’s shadow universities minister suggested that deregulating student fees is still on the agenda. “The government still touts a future with $100 00 degrees, underfunded universities, decades of crippling debt for graduates and mounting bad debt carried by the taxpayer,” he writes.

Senator Carr also details the Labor alternative, including the proposed Higher Education and Productivity Commission, to help universities respond more effectively to the needs of their communities, the labour market and national priorities.” As to paying for it, he promises “a real conversation on how future funding measures should be developed.”

Oh good, a bipartisan commitment to conversations.

ANU Sep 15 3

More and more

The medical research institute community was beside itself with glee yesterday with word that the feds were announcing an extra $2bn for the Medical Research Future Fund; bringing the total to $3bn. It took at least half an hour before demands started for the deposit of the $17bn still to come.

Pyne, friend of deans

Chris Pyne was the best friend in power deans of education could have ever hoped for. As minister for education he defused demands for entrants to teaching courses to have off the chart ATARs, by creating literacy and numeracy tests they needed to pass before graduating as classroom-ready (CMM June 29 2015). It was a brilliant move, being seen to protect standards but not reducing the pool of teacher education students some universities rely on.

And the Australian Council of Deans of Education knows it, “welcoming” the trial yesterday. That 90 per cent of people who sat the pilots passed means the government can claim it is protecting quality without a mandatory entry score and allows universities to claim their standards are assured. But where did the people in the pilot come from? CMM asked Mr Pyne’s office in August but funnily enough did not get a response. That the test took place in capital cities is not much help, although that it was offered in Albury and Ballarat rather suggests it was sat by teaching students from La Trobe and Federation U.

And while CMM is asking questions, where is the overhaul of teacher education courses Mr Pyne announced in February and again in August, as part of his response to the Craven Review? “For too long there have been public concerns about the variability in the quality of teaching graduates and in the effectiveness of existing programmes in preparing new teachers,” he said in the winter. So what will his successor Simon Birmingham say in the summer.

Unskilled advice

“Compare courses & prices when choosing an education provider to find the best one for you,” the Department of Education sagely suggested via Twitter yesterday. Problem is that the link provided was to an advice site on financial assistance rather than the myskills course guide. But not to worry myskills is about as useful for anybody who needs the most basic information on courses as a beginners guide to Sanskrit.


The government’s scramble to reduce the rorting of the VET FEE HELP scheme became a shambles in the Senate yesterday as it introduced last minute amendments that need to be dealt with before parliament rises at the end of the week. Yesterday afternoon Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker proposed four new measures in response to criticism of the proposed legislation that it goes s fair way to reform the system but not way far enough. The minister wants to freeze total loan limits for existing providers at 2015 levels, introduce new requirements for training providers to benefit from the loans scheme, stop payment on student enrolment for “certain providers” and “pause” payments to providers for new enrolments “where there are concerns about performance.”

Good-oh, but as Labor’s Kim Carr points out, the legislation could go much further to protect prospective and enrolled students. He has a point, the crisis in VET is now as much about public perception as policy and the government needs a strong statement to make its point – an ombudsman as recommended by Labor and the VET private providers would be a start.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham did well in the Senate last night, defending a hurriedly assembled bill while assuring the chamber that it was only for a year, that a whole new scheme would be in place for 2017.

Will the bill pass? No doubt – Labor, the Greens and crucial independent Nick Xenophon all know it is needed. But it will not be enough to restore community faith in the private training system.

Desirable destinations

Let the oi-oi-oing be unconfined with news from the ever-energetic QS ratings agency that Australia has seven cities in its world top 50 for students. That’s every capital except Hobart and Darwin, plus the southeast Queensland coast. Melbourne (2nd in the world after Paris) is followed by Sydney (4th), Canberra (17th), Brisbane (18th), Adelaide (26th) Perth (35th) and the Gold Coast (69th). The methodology is based on a bunch of factors including a minimum of two QS rated universities and quality of life and economic opportunities. This leads to some curious comparisons. Students who like the idea of Vienna (16) might struggle to find a comparison with Canberra (17) which is full of follies, just none built by Hapsburgs. And as for anybody who sings “I’ll take Manhattan (the Bronx and Staten Island too)” might wonder why Brisbane (18) is better than NYC (19). You consults your Fodor and you makes your choice (readers under 40 ask a travel agent what a Fodor is, a travel agent? well there used to be these people, oh never mind).

So you want a CRC

With the next application round for Cooperative Research Centres imminent here’s what CRC Association chief Tony Peacock says are the key things in this age of impact. First, explain what the project will do and how an all-start team will do it and then emphasise how the whole team is determined to make an impact. Oh and industry impact should be integral to the bid. If you can’t get a CRC up now you are not talking LOUDLY ABOUT IMPACT.

Cluey comrades

Labor is smart to agree to a government move to end the discounts for people paying university fees upfront or making advance payments on HECS debt. For a start they are Labor proposals dating from the days of the Gillard Government. The move also gives the party cover for continuing to oppose the cuts to university funding it introduced and which the government is now trying to pass, again. Labor can now oppose the cuts by pointing to this decision as evidence that it is prepared to make hard decisions. CMM was wrong was to dismiss the education savings legislation as a government stunt yesterday, it turns out to be an astute Labor move.