Minister says research funding and the demand driven system secure

Your course notes Milord

The University of Southampton is teaching a course on the “the real Downton Abbey”. “Was country house life really like that? Were servants really on such good terms with their masters?,” the university asks. Next somebody will be offering a unit on Game of Thrones to understand, “women, politics, … chivalry, religion, sexuality and race.” Oh, wait, the University of British Columbia is. (Thanks to Paul Greatrix for the lead).

Birmingham commits to demand driven system and secure research funding

In his first major interview of 2016 Education Minister Simon Birmingham has committed to funding certainty for universities in research and teaching this year but signalled possible changes to the student loan system.

“The government’s innovation programme is fully funded and the Australian Research Council is not going to be cut to pay for long term programmes such as the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, we will not rob Peter to pay Paul,” Senator Birmingham told CMM yesterday.

And while demand driven funding of undergraduate places involves “continuing significant pressure on the budget” the government remains committed to the programme. The minister also explicitly rejected government establishing student quotas with universities for disciplines/occupations, as set out in Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr’s compacts proposal.

“We will not follow Labor in proposing compacts to limit opportunity,” he said.

However Senator Birmingham warned that “there are pressures across the budget and the education portfolio cannot be viewed in isolation.” And he signalled he intended to legislate reforms in the life of the parliament “if feasible”.

“The sustainability of the student loan system is one thing being considered.”

In addition to the demand driven system, Senator Birmingham also emphasised the opportunities for universities in the government’s innovation agenda, which would flow through a new research impact based funding model being developed by the Australian Research Council. “Universities are quite responsive to funding settings and I am confident changes will flow quite quickly.”

And he pointed to “incentives” for universities to innovate in course content and delivery. “Policy settings that allow them to differentiate are a priority.”

“Universities and other higher education providers should be absolutely competitive between each other.”

Below: Private sector training has a role

ANU Dec 15 2

ACU confirms Institute head

James McLaren is the new director of the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at the Australian Catholic University, but it will not take him long to work the job out. Professor McLaren has acted in the post since the Institute was established in January 2014. As far as Excellence for Research in Australia is an indication Professor McLaren is off to a solid-ish start, ACU scored fours for philosophy and religious studies, philosophy and religion and religious studies in December’s research ranking. Only Uni Sydney and ANU had fives for religion related research.

ASQA up to speed

Education Minister Simon Birmingham believes training regulator the Australian Skills Quality Authority has “caught up” with problems in private training providers and is sending “clear signals” to the industry.

Senator Birmingham defended the agency to CMM yesterday, in the aftermath of last year’s rolling crisis involving for-profit training providers accessing public funding by signing people into courses they had no hope of completing.

ASQA probably confronted a ‘perfect storm’ as a new national regulator bringing different schemes in different jurisdictions together. Problems were also compounded by unprecedented growth in state training schemes and Canberra’s VET FEE HELP system” he said.

He also praised the role of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission in dealing with exploitation of students, pointing out its and ASQA‘s regulatory roles are distinct.

Senator Birmingham predicts the new funding scheme being developed now will “be more responsive in terms of tax payer dollars and tangible outcomes for students.” However the minister declined to detail its features, saying Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker was now consulting with the states and stakeholders.

Senator Birmingham became training minister early in 2015 and spent much of last year containing the damage done by for-profit providers rorting the vocational education loan system. He was appointed to the portfolio when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister.

The minister also defended private training providers yesterday, saying “high performance areas in training exist in the fee for service sector.”

“The private sector will continue to have a role, it is healthy to have a competitor for the successful state systems, “ he said. But he would not be drawn on appropriate public and private provider shares of students, suggesting this should be determined by the market rather than “an arbitrary figure.”


Long way from home

The Country Education Foundation exists to encourage young people from remote and regional areas into post school education and training and to help them stay there once they enrol, which is why it publishes a university survival guide at the start of each academic year. The guide is designed for kids who have no choice but to live away from home to study and who need advice on everything from residential campus cultures to the domestic drag. The guide goes live today week @

Competitive federalism

In NSW TAFE fees are frozen in an attempt to reduce price resistance, which has seen public sector training numbers plummet but CMM hears that in WA policy people are interested in extending an income contingent loan scheme to sub degree/diploma qualifications.

Gago going?

In Adelaide insiders suggest South Australian training minister Gail Gago has met her match, in the form of her boss Premier Jay Wetherill, rather than the training industry, which was outraged when she reserved training places for TAFE on the grounds that the public provider needed help before it could compete for students in the open market. “We are supporting TAFE SA while it transitions to more innovative and flexible training provision that better responds to community and industry needs and is more sustainable in a competitive market,” she said on May 21. This started a major brawl with private training providers and then federal VET minister Simon Birmingham, who suggested that this breached federal funding requirements. However Ms Gago  toughed it out, at least until December 9, when she announced increased private sector access to publicly funded places. Her statement puzzled training industry experts then and certainly did not undo all the political damage she had done in May.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. Yesterday’s edition wrongly referred to Catriona MacCallum as working at the Australasian Open Access Support Group. In fact Dr MacCallum is employed by PLOS.