Plus how to keep unhappy research students quiet and FEE HELP changes: no nup-a-thon 

Ancient honour

Edith Cowan U was “excited” on Friday to announce Vice Chancellor Steve Chapman became a Commander of the British Empire in the UK honours list. The award was for services to higher education in Professor Chapman’s previous position as VC of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Presumably the news took a while to reach HM’s Swan River dominion, the honour was proclaimed on December 30.


Just keep talking

Some NSW universities with the largest higher degree enrolments have no way of identifying research student complaints, the state’s Ombudsman warns in a discussion paper. And it suggests universities are often ill equipped to deal with conflicts between supervisors and students, with formal grievance procedures not designed to save struggling relationships before they collapse. “Because no party wants their supervisory relationship to fail there is a strong temptation to let matters drift along until a conflict reaches an irredeemable level of hostility,” the Ombudsman asserts.

The paper states student surveys report no or negligible differences between domestic and international student satisfaction with supervisors. However there are “perceptions” among complaint handlers that students from different regions are variously more or less likely to complain about a supervisor. “However when faced with the potentially shameful prospect of being sent home without having successfully accomplished a course of study, it is believed the same international students who are least likely to come forward at an earlier stage become unusually tenacious in fighting against their study being terminated.”

The Ombudsman proposes eleven measures universities could take to deal with disputes, including allowing research students to make confidential complaints against supervisors, before they escalate into brawls involving external agencies.

The paper is designed to inform discussion at the Ombudsman University Complaint Handlers Forum on February 16.

Semper Fi fundraiser

The University of New South Wales has beefed up fundraising with the appointment of Caltech development manager, and former US marine, Jon Paparsenos. Mr Paparsenos led a team of 14 to raise US$165m for Caltech in the last US financial year. In the new position of VP Philanthropy he will report to Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs and “work closely,” with VP Advancement Jennie Lang, who now has charge of philanthropy.

Despite the obvious importance of fundraising the university’s new ten-year plan is light on for expectations, stating, “we will establish systems for industry, international and philanthropic engagement in new sources of revenue. We will review our operations to maximise efficiency and effectiveness and repurpose expenditure to support strategic opportunities.” CMM suspects Mr Paparsenos will have far more specific targets.


Citation stars
The Thomson Reuters most cited scholars for 2015 is out, with not much changed on the 2014 issue, CMM June 25). The metric is based on TR’s Web of Science and includes the most cited 1 per cent of papers in their field. The University of Melbourne has 12 of the world’s 3000 researchers with most cited papers, just ahead of Monash and UofQ. All up 30 Australian universities and research institutions had citation stars on staff, although most only had one or two. CMM wonders if anybody will run the stars’ outputs against their institution’s ERA performance.

TR cites 16 top performing institutions (there was a tie for the 15th place), the U Cal system, Harvard, the US National Institutes of Health, Stanford, Max Planck, the U Texas system, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Duke, Oxford, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston), MIT, King Abulaziz U (Saudi Arabia), Northwestern, Princeton, Uni Michigan, Uni Washington.

Going for gold

The open access bandwagon rolls on in Europe, with the Netherlands turn to chair the EU Council. Gold open access advocate Dutch science and education state secretary Sander Decker signals the Dutch will “encourage member states to invest more in research and innovation, through a smart regulatory framework, made attractive to researchers with an ‘open science with open access’ approach.” It’s amazing the for-profit journal providers does not adopt the Decker approach, what with the way the gold “pay to publish” option protects the industry.

ANU Dec 15 3

Uberising unis

It takes an academic with insight to see the connection between paradigm shifts for cabs and campuses but at ANU the endlessly energetic Marnie Hughes Warrington is wondering whether universities “deserve” digital disruption of the Uber kind. Yes, she writes in her new monthly essay on higher education change, there is a bunch of functions that digital platforms will transform, but not all of them will be good.

Uber’s online platform is cute, but the business proposition works because of consumer frustration with older business settings and thus the sense of not being heard. … This world of the Uberversity is where the classical university becomes toast unless it wakes up and learns a thing or two about responsiveness and change agility,” she writes.

“The problem for universities is that if they view prospective students as irrational consumers, as behavioural economics assumes people in general often are, they will miss the meaning of Uber. While people may use it for sometimes not entirely textbook rational reasons they work out how to use it successfully because it is alternative to transport providers they do not like.”

And the same, she writes, can apply to higher education.

“Think of an alumni-student loans and giving service that focuses on financial barriers to access and cuts down the institutional overheads and inefficiencies of small gift management. Or cast your mind to the future with a credit transfer marketplace that uses blockchain supply management to trace decisions to source, encourages replication of decisions and holds institutions to account for turnaround times. What about on demand remote invigilation? A staff interface for seeing and moving timetable allocations within parameters with an integrated short term parking reservation service for sessional and part-time staff? A subject or program accreditation platform that prioritises and expedites proposals on the basis of student up votes? With a bit of a stretch, we might even see the introduction of surge management technologies for assessment.”

Every governance galah (to paraphrase Paul Keating ) in the campus pet shop is talking about digital transformation. However Professor Warrington is presenting opportunities and addressing their implications. Always worth reading.

ANU Sept 15

Another nup-a-thon won’t work

On Thursday Education Minister Simon Birmingham told CMM that demand driven funding of undergraduate places is safe and with the government’s innovation agenda fully funded there was nil chance of cuts to the Australian Research Council to pay for it. But the senator also said, “there are pressures across the budget and the education portfolio cannot be viewed in isolation,” adding, “the sustainability of the student loan system is one thing being considered.”

The response was predictable. Greens education spokesman Senator Robert Simms assumed the government plans to reduce the HELP (what we all still insist on calling HECS), repayment threshold, now set at $54 000.

“Lowering the repayment threshold will place an increased burden on low income earners at a time when cuts to penalty rates and an increase in the GST are already on the table,” the senator said. No faulting the senator’s productivity in getting three warnings into a single statement, although the government has implemented none of them.

The Greens were followed by Labor’s Kim Carr who warned the government was still keen on deregulation and “$100 000 degrees.” Pointing to Thursday’s release of MYEFO tables, Senator Carr added, “the risk to Australia’s university sector is just as real under Malcolm Turnbull as it was under Tony Abbott.” The forecasts warn of $300bn in HE spending increases in the four years to 2018-19, “reflecting the delays in the implementation of the higher education reforms announced in the 2014-15 budget.”

The senator had a point, but just because the savings are on the books does not mean Minister Birmingham will them back to the Senate, to see them go down again. However Senator Carr went further, suggesting savings are not essential given unmet demand for undergraduate places is now “largely absorbed.” “The government claimed fee deregulation was necessary because surging enrolments were placing pressure on the Budget. That claim was always hollow. The only funding crisis was the confected one caused by the threatened 20 per cent cut.” Um, that cut will be to university funding, as first proposed by Gillard Government education minister Craig Emerson.

But it’s Senator Carr’s line and he is sticking to it because HE policy will not continue the big win it was when the only thing cross-bench senators heard about universities was that they were conspiring with Christopher Pyne to charge $100k for degrees. If the government hikes HECS, at least by reducing the repayment threshold as a budget saving, the Greens will scream. However with the innovation agenda in place and demand driving funding assured universities will not complain, at least not loudly. This will put Labor in a difficult space. The easy thing would be another nup-a-thon but as the alternative government the party will need to appear committed to some savings and HECs debtors will not be an organised opposition. The question is, will Labor be able to wave a change to HECS through parliament without anyone noticing. That will depend on what the National Tertiary Education Union, a driving force in the “$100k degree campaign” does. Sure the NTEU’s full-time members are beneficiaries of the demand driven system and research funding but the union is categorically opposed to any cut to public expenditure on HE. Question is will the comrades complain at Greens volume.