Plus new undergraduate demand stalled in ’15


A reader suggests that the collective noun for VCs is not a dazzle, as Byron Sharp suggested on Monday but an assertion.

Unfairly in the frame

Thanks to the reader who pointed to a Fairfax papers story on Monday, about cheating at Australian universities. It was illustrated with an un-captioned pic of the quadrangle at the University of Sydney, an institution not mentioned in the story. An innocent editing error CMM is sure, but it must have made Sydney VC Michael Spence’s morning.


New demand stalls

Over 1.2m students attended university in the first half of 2015, according to new federal figures announced this morning. University enrolments continued to grow last year as students took advantage of demand driven funding. However Education Minister Simon Birmingham signalled that DDF had come “at a significantly higher cost to the taxpayer,” with overall higher education outlays increasing from $12.5bn to $16bn over five years. “While the demand driven system has provided unprecedented access and must continue to be protected … the Turnbull Government is committed to ensuring the system remains sustainable while continuing to support excellence, diversity and opportunity for all Australian students,” the senator said.

Minister Birmingham also indicated coming measures to reward, and punish, universities according to attrition rates. With 15 per cent of first years not continuing with their course, “universities must take responsibility for those students they choose to enrol and ensure they have the capabilities and support to succeed.”

Overall growth in first half ’15 of 3.1 per cent was marginally slower than the 3.6 per cent increase between 2013 and ’14. But new demand levelled off, with commencing student numbers growing by a bare 0.1 per cent. At 4.7 per cent international enrolments recorded strongest growth. We will not see first half ’16 figures to mid year.

Enrolments of members of all equity groups were also up, ranging from 2 per cent for rural students to 7 per cent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

There were big increases in STEM related enrolments, 14 per cent enrolment growth in IT, 4 per cent in engineering and 3 per cent in science and despite all the talk of an over-supply of teachers, education numbers were up nearly 5 per cent.

The international market’s long-term focus on management continued with business disciplines accounting for half of commencements and overall enrolments.

Can you hear them Major Tom?

The Council of Australian Governments wants to hear from everybody in the space biz (as in outer, not storage CMM assumes) to identify “any cluster of activity that exist.” Unless there are a bunch of Elon Musks out there surely government should know – what with the way they will be paying for it.


Big bucks in Block Grants

As part of the government’s wholesale adoption of the Watt Review of research, books, book chapters, journal articles and conference proceedings which used to count for 10 per cent of Research Block Grant allocations are gone. Competitive grants and engagement now drive which institutions get how much. People wise in the arcane ways of research funding say this will save institutions effort but is not likely to change the distribution of dosh. CMM asked officials if this was so before Christmas and they responded, just not with an answer.

As to the total BG allocations for this year, it is pretty much funding as usual, with the Group of Eight picking up a poultice; Uni Sydney $180m, UNSW $163m, Monash $155m, Melbourne $184m, UoQ $175m, UWA $91m, Uni Adelaide $87m and ANU $105m. That’s 1.14bn, some 60 per cent of the cash, leaving the 30 or so other institutions $674m to share. The second squad, each receiving $25m plus (an entirely arbitrary number selected by CMM) is Macquarie $39m, Newcastle $41m, UTS $27m, Wollongong $36m, Deakin $29m, LaTrobe $29m, RMIT $34m, Griffith $38m, QUT $50m, Curtin $41m, Flinders $27m, Uni SA $34m, UTas $43m, all up, close to another $470m.

It shows why no government has ever taken the Go8’s advice to exclude research low performers from funding – the political grief would not be worth the amount of money reallocated.

Finkel Fans

Engineers endorsed Alan Finkel within half an hour of the new chief scientist starting work on Monday. “Australia needs to shift from being the lucky country to the smart country. Engineers Australia understands this and sees the Chief Scientist as an essential partner to achieve that objective,” EA CEO Stephen Durkin said. Dr Finkel isn’t talking this week but CMM is sure he is pleased.

ANU Dec 15 4

One of us

Among yesterday’s gongs for the great and the good other people stood up to become Australians. Including Flinders VC Colin Stirling and family who became citizens yesterday after four years in Perth at Curtin U and now in Adelaide. Becoming a citizen at the height of an Adelaide summer, now that’s patriotic.

Park and pay and pay

Parking permits are to university administrators what sin taxes used to be to treasurers a source of ready new money from people whose addictions gave them no option but to pay up. But for staff and students at campuses light-on for public transport it is a bit rich to slug the community for increases they have no alternative to paying. Yes a case can be made for charging what the market will bear at inner-city Uni Adelaide, served by a bunch of buses. But hardly at Monash Clayton, klick upon klick from the nearest rail. Nor at Murdoch U, a 20-minute walk from the railway– and try that on a Perth summer morning. But Murdoch has just  jacked up staff and student parking fees by varying amounts starting at 25 per cent. An annual permit for the pick of the parking, in the red zone, will set staff back $500 and students $480. And for students who live on-campus, on top of room and board they also have to pay $250 pa to park at home.

Top of the pops

Education Minister, and SA senator, Simon Birmingham voted in Triple Js Hot 100 for South Australian bands, Skies and Bad Dreems and the famous but faceless Sia. She made the cut (at 48) but the other two didn’t. CMM is sure the senator is much better at picking political winners.

Competitive market

The Financial Planners Association got a run for its concerns at the government’s plan for all advisers to be degree qualified the other day. No, the story was not new, but neither is the problem the plan is supposed to fix, under-qualified planners giving out sub-standard advice. Certainly the FPA wants planners to have higher qualifications, all new association members already have to be graduates, but it wants to phase in degree qualifications over time and to recognise, “the current qualifications and training, experience, and ongoing education of existing financial planners.”

Good-o, but one way or another universities that universities that teach financial planning should be set for a bunch of new part-time enrolments. Don’t bet on it. The FPA suggests that planners really need competencies that are the equivalent to a bachelor degree, and point to the 2012 curriculum of the Financial Planning Education Council as one appropriate provider. “As the FPA understates it, the education industry is also going through major change and innovation at the moment.” No one has a monopoly on knowledge anymore.


Standup spinners

The British Council in Australia has opened applications for FameLab 16, an explain your research in three minutes talent quest. The winner will get to perform in the international final at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June. The prize includes, “the opportunity to attend a science communication masterclass lead by the best UK trainers.” And there CMM was thinking spin in science was confined to quantum mechanics and particle physics.