plus the ATAR: under attack and out of date

We need to get staff out of silos says Bebbington of Adelaide

and Birmingham keeps education while Hunt moves to innovation

Ticket to ride

The University of Melbourne is asking for reasons why the underground railway station to be built at Parkville should be called University. Prize is a six-month Myki public transport pass. Cheaper than using the university ad agency.

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End of the ATAR approaches

Marnie Hughes Warrington reports that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has commenced formal investigations into the Western Australia and South Australian tertiary entry centres. The ANU DVC announced overnight in her blog that the ACCC was acting, following the university’s complaints that admission centres were making life difficult, or impossible, for ANU to list along side state-specific institutions (CMM April 13).

ANU acted to create equality of understandable access to university applications, to help students and families who are not familiar with the esoterica of admissions systems. As Professor Hughes Warrington explains, “some will say it is a tough course of action to achieve reform. From our point of view, it is necessary to place the interests of the most disadvantaged firmly at the heart of what we do. They do not have the benefit of workarounds. They do not know how to optimise compromises. They do not always know what the best is for their children, and they fear getting university admissions wrong. Those of us who have had the benefit of learning what the best is are obligated as educators to make that knowledge available,” she writes.

UWA VC Paul Johnson also had a go at the local uni entry guild yesterday, asking why Western Australian students have to wait to the middle of January to know if they are into the course they want. In place of the autocracy of the ATAR he suggested the UK system, where school students are accepted into a course before final exams, contingent on their marks. “You have to ask who is the current system designed to serve? … It was set up in 1975 and now is a good time to look at it, is it responsive as it could be?, Professor Johnson said on Perth radio.

He also called for a national entry system but most significant, questioned whether the ATAR should exist at all now that demand driven funding has made a means of rationing access to undergraduate education irrelevant. “The system was designed to do something that no longer needs to be done.”

The ATAR and the state based bureaucracies that use it are looking old.

Tues July 19

Simon stays

Simon Birmingham keeps education in the second Turnbull government, announced yesterday, presumably as a reward for keeping university funding off the election agenda. He stays in a portfolio he is said to enjoy and picks up international education as well.

Christopher Pyne also seems happy (when doesn’t he?) about losing industry and innovation to take on a new defence job, supervising construction of kit, fighters, frigates, submarines and the like. His replacement in industry and innovation, Greg Hunt faces a tough task selling the prime minister’s science agenda to an electorate, which wasn’t buying during the election. However the consensus is that he is up to at least getting industry and research agencies working together. CMM has no clue what his assistant minister Craig Laundy thinks about innovation.

Karen Andrews picks up a tough task, moving from good news job of junior minister for science (big-picture speeches, opening thingatrons and working in a field that really interests the prime minister) to assistant minister for vocational education (industry standards, state ministers and an apprentice and trainee system built over time by people keen on Kafka.) Still it could be worse, Senator Birmingham says he will take a “leading role” in redesigning VET FEE HELP, leaving Ms Andrews with immensely complex but less career-ending bits, apprenticeships, standards and the like.

Still innovating

While Christopher Pyne expressed delight with his new job yesterday he did seem to be having trouble letting go of his old one as innovator in chief. Defence industry will be an “innovation driver” in “a new age of innovation,” he said. And did he mention how proud he was to deliver the innovation agenda?


Preparing for the worst

Professional staff at the University of New South Wales have wondered what is in the works for some since staff got either one or two enthusiastic emails from Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs back in May. Most people just got a great-things-coming text but some received that plus another message about improving processes, generally seems as a euphemism for the sack (CMM May 18). Now the campus branch of the NTEU is reminding staff of a briefing on “your rights in relation to redeployment opportunities and retrenchment,” today. “What do they know we don’t, other than the redundancies are coming soon, a Kensington correspondent asks.

No savings but fewer silos

The proposal to reduce faculties and empower schools that so upset some staff at the University of Adelaide last week isn’t about savings, it’s about silos, according to VC Warren Bebbington. Especially getting academics out of them and talking to people in other subject areas about their teaching and research. “Staff surveys here show poor cross-faculty cooperation is common,” he says.

“As the national innovation agenda and global priorities develop, the challenge now is to embolden schools to embrace new connections and combine their capacities to interact in ways that maximise their external impact, unobstructed by organisational barriers. All schools relevant to the STEM agenda might act together, to more powerfully influence STEM education in the state. All schools with a part to play in defence and security research might work in alignment. Politics, law and economics could together address the state’s public policy issues more intensively.” And it is not, not, about cutting heads – yes there will be two fewer deans as faculties reduce from five to three but that is it. The professional services review that is nearly complete is designed to support the same schools, even in a reduced number of faculties.

Professor Bebbington points out that the existing five-faculty model, which some staff now see as essential, was established in 2002 solely to suit the politics of an unsettled time in the university. The problems that were not dealt with then still exist. There just isn’t, he says, a “secret plan” to downsize.

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Not as bad as we thought

Despite the looting of Treasury thanks to the disastrously designed VET FEE HELP policy it seems that the training sector is in relatively ok shape. New research by Patrick Korbel and Josie Misko for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training finds “VET market reforms and changing funding regimes over this period appear not to have driven major changes in provider numbers, despite the underlying turnover of providers.”

In fact it appears the rorting of VET FEE HELP was not as significant a blow to the system as is all but universally assumed

“It was existing training providers who primarily applied to and accessed the VET FEE-HELP system. The large majority of these loans were made to students attending established rather than new providers, refuting views that the scheme is dominated by multiple new providers who entered the sector to take advantage of VET FEE-HELP,” Korbel and Misko write.

Even more surprising the number of providers in the system was more stable in the last five years than the ten before. “Based on the data presented, there is no indication of great turbulence or an overwhelming influx of providers into the VET sector … or a wholesale collapse of providers, who then leave the sector. Considering the number and variety of reforms, this aspect of the VET provider market has remained relatively stable.”

Perhaps a staffer should put a copy of the report on the top of Minister Birmingham’s intray.

Another academy honour

The British Academy has inducted ANU archaeologist Peter Bellwood for his work, which focuses on Southeast Asia and Oceania. Professor Bellwood has been at ANU since 1973, which he says, is “a very good place because of its strong base in Asian studies.” He follows ANU’s Jane Stapleton, inducted last year who is now moving to lead Christ’s College, Cambridge (CMM June 30).

New biotech boss

Anna Lavelle is standing down as CEO of industry lobby Ausbiotech to be replaced in September by chief operating office Glenn Cross.

Growth opportunity

Medical researchers in the institute sector do not have the same protections for wages and conditions as their colleagues in universities, according to the National Tertiary Education Union. The union is making the case for “a strong safety net” for the scientists in submissions before the Fair Work Commission’s review of the higher education award this week. “There is a risk a tiered chasm of award pay and conditions could open up between staff employed in research institutes and their counterparts in universities. This would be extremely unfair, given the obvious similarities in the work being performed, and the fact that many staff move between the two sectors throughout their careers,” NTEU president Jeannie Rea says.

The president of the union’s institutes branch, Dr David Trevaks, from the Florey Institute spoke at the inquiry yesterday. The NTEU says it has members in “a number” of institutes and “a handful” of enterprise agreements. In fact there are just eight research institutes with collective agreements. The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has 46 members.

Griffith picks up the pace

Griffith University will move to trimesters for the 2017 academic year. The university’s council approved the move in 2015. The move is being sold to the Gold Coast community as offering students more flexible study options which will lift international demand.


Head at heart

John Kelly is the new CEO of the National Heart Foundation. The UTS Health Faculty adjunct professor moves from Aged and Community Services Australia.