Plus the ATN rocket up the QS rankings and Obama’s report card F 

You don’t say Scott

“Interesting day to be in Parliament House to talk to pollies about CQUni, they seem a little preoccupied,” VC Scott Bowman, via Twitter, yesterday after Malcolm Turnbull challenged.

What Simon would say

Multiple sources suggest Christopher Pyne is set to switch education for defence in Malcolm Turnbull‘s cabinet. There is also talk that Training Minister Simon Birmingham will move up to the portfolio position. This would be a good outcome for higher education. Senator Birmingham has done well in training, implementing a pragmatic strategy to stop for-profit rorters and streamlining national regulation. But would he push on with Mr Pyne‘s deregulation plan? A year out from an election with a new prime minister who needs applause not aggravation CMM suspects not. Senator Birmingham could announce that deregulation is still government policy but needs work to win over senators. If Mr Pyne does move it is all over until the election.

ANU cracks world top 20

The Australian National University rates equal 19th in the world in today’s QS Rankings, up six places on 2014. It leads the seven Group of Eight institutions who are in the QS global top 100, five being in the top 50. The outlier, the University of Adelaide, drops 13 places to 113. Uni Adelaide is not the only Go8 institution to drop spots, Uni Melbourne (42nd) is down 11 places, Uni Sydney (45th) drops 8 positions and the University of Western Australia just makes it into the global 100, at 98th, a decline of seven spots from 2014.

Despite these mainly marginal declines there is less a gap than a chasm between the Group of Eight and the next Australian institution, UTS which is 218th.

However this does not diminish the UTS achievement and that of the other members of the Australian Technology Network. UTS rocked up the ratings, increasing by 56 places, QUT rose from 285 to 263, RMIT was up 31 spots, to 273, Curtin flew from 331 in 2014 to 284 and the University of South Australia improved by 45 positions to 288. Of the unaligned institutions making the top 400 the University of Wollongong did very well, improving 40 places to 243rd in the world.

Overall QS 15 is a win for the Brits and Yanks with ten of the top 20 universities in the world based in the US – four of the first five are American, MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Caltech, (Cambridge ranks three). Of the others in the 20, five are British.

In a worrying sign that Australia’s regional dominance is eroding, Singapore has two top 20 universities, the National University of Singapore (12th in the world up from 22nd) and the Nanyang Technological University (39th in 2014 and 13th this year).

The QS organisation is not universally admired for its methodology. While it goes to great lengths this year to explain statistical improvements to the way it ranks research citations it still relies on academics and employers offering their opinions on universities. Even so, it has now been round long enough to be part of the higher education assessment establishment. This year’s numbers will be poured over by winners and losers alike.

On track

When asked yesterday by Kieran Gilbert (Sky News) yesterday whether a Liberal leadership challenge was “coming like a freight train ” Training Minister Simon Birmingham replied, “I am not much of a trainspotter.” Critics note, the senator said “train,” not “training.”

Matter of fact

“The supply of legal graduates continues unabated despite the fact that most cannot find work in law. To illustrate this point, 12 years ago there were only two law schools in Melbourne. There are now eight universities offering law degrees in Melbourne plus a range of on-line and distance education providers,” Melbourne Law School and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor2015: Australia: state of the legal market.

Applying additive research

Last week ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young made a strong case for basic research, arguing Australia lacked an applied research culture involving universities and industry, like Germany. “The truth is, we have not needed to build a high-technology manufacturing sector. Historically, we have been able to build an affluent society by exploiting our natural resources: agriculture and mining,” he said.

Looking back Professor Young is right but the past is no predictor of the future – and there is no reason why Australia can’t adapt and expand research based on emerging technologies. Like additive manufacturing. Monash has printed a small-scale jet engine; Melbourne company Anatomics is printing body parts. And at UoQ students from the robotic club are working on a functioning prosthetic arm using an additive printer and open source software. This is about as applied as it gets.

Less question more statement

“Why do my muscles ache the day after exercise,” Edith Cowan U exercise scientist Ken Nosaka asks, and then answers. And there CMM was thinking everything was supposed to hurt before, during and after training.

ANU Sep 15 4

Sydney stands alone

The University of Sydney Business School was quick to congratulate itself yesterday for making it into the world’s top 40 on the Financial Times’ ranking of masters of management degrees. The bizoids at UoS are at 39 for 2015, well up on their ranking in the lower 40s over the least three years. But where were the rest of the providers? Nowhere to be seen, Uni Sydney is the only Aus institution to make the cut. CMM suspects this has to do with products, the masters is a European speciality and US institutions are not prominent on the FT list.

Information makes markets

Back in January a report by Josie Misko, for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training, detailed regulatory approaches for providers in Europe and North America (CMM January 27). She builds on it in a new paper on quality assurance approaches around the world, released yesterday. This is timely indeed given the less stellar than black hole performance by the Australian Skills Quality Authority in identifying spivs in the for-profiting training sector.

Ms Josko concluded yesterday “a risk-based approach to regulation can help to reduce regulatory burden. However, this approach requires the regulator to have sufficient information to be able to identify those institutions that are a risk to the system and those that are not. This requires having good intelligence mechanisms as well as a system for dealing with praiseworthy performance, performance that requires improvement and performance warranting the application of more punitive sanctions.” Sound like ASQA to you? No, I did not think so.

Ms Josko also warns outcomes measures need to record quality learning as well as easier to assess metrics, such as participation and completions. But all the metrics in the world will not help unless they inform the market. “The ability to view the performance of providers on public websites can help students to make informed choices of what and where they want to study, while also enabling governments to apply accountability measures to provider performance, and regulators to apply their risk management processes to quality assurance review processes,” she writes.

With the NCVER charged with collecting public and private provider data there is no doubting there will be stacks of stats. The challenge is presenting the information in ways relevant to students and employers, which is precisely what the existing myskills, (“Australia’s directory of training”) does not really do.

Now with added hg index!

Geoffrey Soutar (UWA) and colleagues have crunched the numbers on research outputs for US, UK, ANZ and Canadian university marketing researchers. They used Google Scholar citations to create an h index (number of papers with that number of citations), g index (weights highly cited papers) and a combination of the two. They find that Australian and New Zealand marketing departments are doing well. “While the number of universities in the USA means they dominate the results, comparison across countries suggest there are no significant differences in the proportion of universities in the top tiers in each country,” they write.

The authors do not publish data on individual academics, which CMM thinks is no fun at all, but they do create an institutional research ranking. And very interesting it is indeed. The best performing department in the country is at the University of Western Australia with an all-staff hg index of 18.52 followed by the University of South Australia at 16.47. At the other end of the scale Federation U rated 1.09 and Swinburne 3.34. The all-institution figure is 9.57. The Aus and NZ  performance are good numbers among any competition. So why, Uni SA marketing professor Byron Sharp, wants to know, did the Australian Research Council rank his university’s marketing researchers in 2012 as three, “average performance at world standard.” “This suggests to me that ERA assessors show a fair amount of cultural cringe ‘we couldn’t possibly be as good as America’ when assessing ‘world class,’ ” he said last night.

Markets crave data

Perhaps it is simply too hard to provide people considering training with the information they need. That seems to be what ASQA thinks. According to TAFE Directors Australia, ASQA chief Chris Robinson told their conference last week; “I think VET is very confusing for the consumer because there aren’t sufficient product parameters that are well understood by the market, and that’s the big failing. No amount of regulation or funding is actually going to fix that.”

But it is not what Victorian training lead reviewer Bruce Mackenzie appears to think. He told TDA about a proposed classification system, rating providers from low risk high capability at one to the reverse at class four. “It is important to stress that it is not a rating system, but to achieve the highest category you will need to have scale, size and financial capability, Mr Mackenzie said. It may not be meant as marketing but CMM suspects that is what top scoring providers will do with it.

Harder than it looks

Nobody much likes the commercial rankings but nobody can come up with a model to knock them off – just ask Barack Obama. For a couple of years the White House has talked of a government created higher educated ranking system. University leaders hated it, Republicans, notably Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) said he would legislate against it (CMM June 12) but in the end it seems it was just too hard to build. So what US students are getting instead is College Scorecard, which is to be generous,woeful. This is not a win for prospective students, but the rating providers will be pleased.

criterion update