Plus social media:universities talk global act local 

Bring it on

The Monash Mystics cheer squad has won the world university cheerleading championships. CMM wonders how this will rate on the ARC’s new impact measure. Making the best of what they had, LaTrobe supporters reported their team’s “solid performance” in the world university division.


Just keep earning

UniSuper reports a “perfect storm” of market negatives to start the year, which will not do much for its members (including CMM) who expect to have accumulated enough to retire on by the middle of the next century. Still it could be worse; in fact it is for casual academics who have enough trouble surviving from one semester to next without worrying what the absence of permanent employment now will mean for their super balances.

Dean departs

Monash is in the market for a new dean of science. Incumbent Scott O’Neill is staying at the university but returning to research after leading the faculty through “a period of transformation”. Professor O’Neill joined Monash from UofQ in 2011 and is leaving the deanery discretely. CMM called to ask him why he wanted to go but was told he is on leave.


Talking amongst themselves

Australians got the Internet early, realising that digital info flows could free them from the tyranny of distance – it’s why we lead the world for pirating Game of Thrones episodes on-line instead of waiting for a ship to transport DVDs to copy. But it seems, in higher education at least, university managements like to talk to people who, if not like us, are at least geographically close. New research by Deakin’s Stuart Palmer (Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education) investigated follower/following relationships between Australian universities (for organisational comms not teaching and learning) on Twitter in May 2014 to discover if physical geography influenced connections.

It does. Associate Professor Palmer carefully qualifies his conclusions but found that, “geography appears to play an important role in determining the relative level of connection between Twitter accounts.” Universities follow the others in their state and across the country “state-based clusters follow the natural geography of Australia.”

“Most Australian universities offer off-campus, distance and/or online study programs to students based anywhere nationally or internationally. The promotion of such learning opportunities via social media channels will be necessarily sub-optimal if the principal viewers of such communications are from relatively close geographic locations,” he suggests.

But what is especially intriguing in Aspro Palmer’s research is that in mid 2014 there was an Australian university without an official Twitter account. He does not name the antediluvian institution but CMM hopes somebody will.

ANU Dec 15 4

Making sense of VOCED

The people writing the policy to replace the much rorted VET FEE HELP scheme should read Kaye Bowman and Suzy McKenna’s history of the national training system, released yesterday by the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Research. In 1992 the states and commonwealth agreed to create a nationally coordinated system and Bowman and McKenna explain the results. While administrative agencies have come and gone the enduring theme in training is “between achieving consistency across the national system and flexibility at the jurisdictional level.”

The authors systematically set out the bewilderingly complex objectives and outcomes, administration and funding regimes that have changed and changed the way training works across the Commonwealth over the last 25 years. They also explain how the system moved from a publicly provided service to a marketplace, following the adoption of National Competition Policy in the middle ’90, although until 2008 TAFE received most funding with competitive pools and student choice accounting for 30 per cent at most.

Everything changed from 2009 when industry focused funding increased and COAG adopted training entitlements. Two states, Victoria and South Australia already had, and “turbulence ensured” as the authors understate it.

In Victoria student demand for courses “misaligned” with business needs grew by 45 per cent on 2010-11 with growth concentrated among private providers, “this combined with the TAFEs’ loss of funding to cover ‘obligations as a public provider’ from 2012, caused a financial crisis with widespread job losses, course cuts and facility downloads, especially in regional areas.” In South Australia public sector monitoring prevented similar excess.

However Bowman and McKenna make it clear that poor planning undercut reforming intent.

“Arguably, the development of a training market could not have occurred without rigorous, transparent and quality-assured national processes for developing and accrediting AQF qualifications on the one hand, and for the regulation of the providers and issuers of those qualifications on the other. Not all the work in the quality area had been done when student entitlement and demand-driven funding reforms first commenced in two states.”

The paper also sets out the three core issues governments must address if a market based training system is to be sustainable: (i) have strong accountability mechanisms, (ii) monitor quality and (iii) “ensure the availability of the information critical to the operation of a demand-driven training market.”

“Australia’s integrated model of national skills standards and a national framework for awarding qualifications are major strengths of the system, but a weakness has been demonstrated as more open-market oriented-funding arrangements have been implemented by the jurisdictions. Lessons from early models of student entitlements show that appropriate adjustments are required in the national standards to maintain consistency of quality outcomes in the national system,” they write.

It strikes CMM that the replacement for VET FEE HELP will only work if the Australian Skills Quality Authority lifts its game.

In a separate paper the authors summarise interviews with (regrettably unnamed) VET “thought leaders” which set out a range of issue a reformed student funding system needs to address.

Overall Bowman and McKenna have provided a context for the government’s new VET student entitlement legislation.

Research for its own sake

The University of New South Wales advises via Twitter that if you have to know about the biting behaviour of birds extinct for 500 years its biomechanical engineers can help. That will be a load off many minds.

ANU Sept 15

U-Multirank gets into the game

U-Multirank is the league table people who loathe them should like. The European project allows users to compare similar universities on a range of performance measures, thus avoiding the top down ranking the commercial providers publish. And yet U-Multirank is less unpopular than ignored. Perhaps this is because the site is cumbersome or perhaps it is because prospective students don’t really rely on packaged performance measures, preferring to make their own comparisons.

Whatever the reason, U-M is trying to lift its profile by reporting its research – much like the commercial rankers. And so just as the Times Higher was promoting its most international universities U-M came up with an analysis of which disciplines had the most international outlook, measured by students doing some of their course in another country and the percentage of international academics.

The leader is business with 26 per cent of courses rated A for their international orientation – understandable given a globalising economy. The least international were physics (11 per cent) and medicine (9 per cent) – this strikes CMM as less a fail than the result of hard sciences are the same all over – the laws of physics do not change across cultures. But then again engineering is universal and mech eng and computer eng were just behind business.