Out of town achievers

A NSW Legislative Council report on the future for HE is largely ignored by the HE lobbies – but they like it in the regions

The Country Universities Centre praises last Friday’s report from the Council’s education committee for focusing on achievements in the regions. Perhaps not surprising; “in a NSW education system overloaded with problems and challenges, it is refreshing to find a successful, community-led innovation like CUCs. Their equity role in facilitating mature age and ‘first-in-family’ university access is invaluable. Their targeted attention to student learning needs is a sharp departure from large, impersonal campus education. The more CUCs grow and succeed in NSW, the more our higher education system will flourish,” the committee reported.

The report was less enthusiastic about NSW VC pay, calling for a report from the state auditor general (CMM, Monday).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Marnie Hughes Warrington (Uni SA) on the Night Train, where industry-university partnerships grow and change together. “The best universities shape-shift with their communities,” she writes.

Rola Ajjawi (Deakin U) argues feedback to students should be about learning, not justifying a grade – a new addition to contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley is delighted President Biden is taking science seriously.

Last month Michael Tomlinson set out the rationale for the new Higher Education Category Standards (CMM December 6), “The names of the roses.”  Now he explains what the standards mean for applicants.

The help HDR students want

Higher degrees are hard-going, so three Uni Melbourne researchers asked nearly 600 students what help they needed

Tracii Ryan, Chi Baik and Wendy Larcombe (all Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education report grad students say they would benefit from a “whole-of-university approach” to support them and a research culture that values “the wellbeing of all.”

Key findings include,

* recognition of students’ contributions and challenges in their departments and among their broader scholarly communities

* changes to “toxic” work cultures, where over-commitment and poor work–life balance are regarded as “normal”

* more support from supervisors and, “greater oversight and accountability of supervisors so that problematic practices could be identified and remedied more readily”

* increased job resources for HDR students, “that would assist them to manage the unique job demands of doctoral study”

Overall, “our study suggests that the wellbeing of all members of academic research communities needs to be better supported if the high levels of distress among HDRs are to be addressed”

Claire Field on the Productivity Commission skills report

Rebuilding employer satisfaction must be a key TAFE, and broader VET, priority


The  final report of the Productivity Commission’s review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development is released. It is a mammoth report with a raft of useful findings and sensible recommendations (although I do not agree with them all).

Unsurprisingly, given the Commission’s longstanding belief in market mechanisms and with states and territories having already agreed to increased contestability in the next National Skills Agreement, the report recommends greater contestability in VET funding. The report states that “some participants (in the review) suggested that the increased use of private RTOs has decreased the quality of the VET system over time. However, most available evidence suggests that student outcomes are broadly similar regardless of the type of provider” (p. 102).

Specifically, the Commission finds that:

“Broadly, students are equally satisfied with public and private RTOs — about 88 per cent of students at both provider types report being satisfied with their training. This is largely the same across most student cohorts with a few exceptions amongst students experiencing disadvantage.” (p.102)

“Students are about 5 percentage points more likely to be employed after training at a private RTO (after controlling for demographic factors), but once previous employment status is controlled for, the difference is no longer statistically significant.” (p.103)

Of concern, though to the TAFE sector (and ministers) will be this finding:

“… employer satisfaction is significantly higher among those who use private RTOs. These differences persist after controlling for the employers’ industry.” (p.102)

This is a serious problem particularly given the wider trend of declining employer satisfaction and use of VET and the fact that the Commission also recommends the trial of an income-contingent loan scheme to expand access to non-accredited training.

The restructuring of TAFE Institutes in some States may have affected their employer engagement activity (although NCVER data does not show a perfect relationship between declining employer use of TAFE in States which have consolidated their TAFE systems). Rebuilding employer satisfaction must be a key TAFE, and broader VET, priority.

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. In the latest episode she unpacks the Productivity Commission report in full and discusses its likely impact on the sector.

Hons add up for Professor Praeger

Cheryl Praeger is named a Companion in the Order of Australia (AC) – the highest rank of the national honours

Professor Praeger (UWA emeritus) is honoured for, “for eminent service to mathematics, and to tertiary education, as a leading academic and researcher, to international organisations, and as a champion of women in STEM careers.”

The award adds to a swag of achievements and accolades, including the 2019 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Professor Praeger was the first woman president of the Australian Mathematical Society. And according to UWA, the first pure mathematician to win an ARC Federation Fellowship (2007-2012) with her work featuring in more than 400 journal articles, CMM October 17 2019).

Soft-power plusses in New Colombo Plan

The NCP has sent 40 000 Australian students to Indo-Pacific nations and the outcomes are positive all-over

Ly Tran and Huyen Bui (both Deakin U)  report on the response to the plan in host nations.

“Informed understandings of host motives, needs, and circumstances help ensure that Australian student mobility to the Indo-Pacific, supported by the NCP initiative, is not just within Australia’s self-interests but rather, serves the mutual interests of both Australia and other countries in the Indo-Pacific which have willingly hosted Australian students. The acknowledgment of and respect for mutual values of home and host communities in students’ mobility are essential foundations for building and sustaining meaningful people-to-people connections, institution-to-institution connections, country-to-country connections, and broader multilateral ties” they write.

And they identify four positives in the programme for host countries; * contributing to country-to-country connections, * fostering multiple student-to-student, university to- industry, and university-to-university connections, * enriching host communities’ training capacity * human resources and awareness of their own strengths, and * strengthening community engagement through international service-learning.

Won’t DFAT be pleased? For now, certainly, but, while the NCP acts as a bridge to future and long-term collaborations and partnerships among participating organisations, further effort may be required to build a lasting partnership.”