Plus TAFE SAfe 

Heat is always on

The UoQ reports “research finds more people die on cold days than hot days.” As if anybody in Queensland has a clue what “cold” is.

Compared with whatever you like

Universitas 21 has created a comparison generator for its comprehensive data on national university systems, (CMM yesterday). Want to know how the US (overall winner on everything) compares with Serbia (overall top nation adjusted for per capita GDP) for university system output on a 100 point scale? No problem, the US is 100 and Serbia 25. And resources devoted to higher education in Sweden compared to New Zealand is easy-peasy, the shaky isles are consistently around 50 and the Swedes just under 100. How about the operating environment for Australia and major competitor the UK (now) and China (soon)? Interesting outcome – Aus and the UK are close to level pegging ahead of China in each of the last three years, but not by much. Opposition education spokespeople in countries all over the world should bless Universitas 21 – there is enough data here to make all sorts of cases.

ANU new 1

No need to stand

UNSW VC Ian Jacobs is spruiking his green paper on university strategy and held the first open meeting on Monday, in the Clancy Auditorium (CMM May 18). Apparently 300 people turned up, which sounds like a good number but perhaps not as many as the university expected, Clancy can seat 900.

ANU on top

When it comes to ranking research output, “in Leiden we trust, all others must bring as much data as it delivers,” as a metrics maven suggested yesterday. This year’s Leiden ranking of research, out yesterday, is as solid as its sources, publication records from Thomson Reuters’, Web of Science, for 4000 disciplines allocated to biomedicine and health, life and earth sciences, maths and computer science, physical science and engineering and HASS. What the data means for the overall utility of a teaching and research university is a different thing, but it is hard to deny Leiden as a research output measure. Then again, with the vast amount of data involved it is easy to slice and dice the data to make a case.

Leiden is also more consistent than rankings with a big anecdotal and opinion component, although it has its anomalies (Rockefeller U at number one last year). However what does not change is the dominance of the US – with 20 of the top 25 institutions and nine of the top ten (the other being Israel’s Weizmann Institute) this year.

Some 23 Australian universities again make the 750 strong cut. ANU is first at 89, followed by Uni Melbourne 117, UofQ 132, UTS 162, Monash 189, U of Sydney 190, Newcastle 223, UNSW 227, Adelaide 246 and UWS 259 making up the top local top ten. The remaining member of the Group of Eight, Uni WA is 310, behind Curtin, the University of South Australia, James Cook and Macquarie.

Last year of 750 universities 23 were also Australian with ANU in the first spot at 104. The top ten locals include all of the eight usual suspects, excepting the University of Western Australia. The other three in the leader group were James Cook UniversityUTS and Uni Newcastle.


TAFE safe in SA

The South Australian government is backing TAFE at the expense of private trainers and the for-profit lobby is ropeable. The state’s new Workready scheme will offer 81 000 places in 700 courses, down from 900, with the majority of training provided by TAFE for 2015-16. “After the first year of the WorkReady strategy, during which TAFE SA will be supported to become more sustainable, the number of training places for private providers will be boosted,” the state government announced yesterday. According to Training and Higher Education Minister Gail Gago,”TAFE SA has an important role in vocational education. So we are supporting TAFE SA while it transitions to more innovative and flexible training provision that better responds to community and industry needs and is more sustainable in a competitive market.”

TAFE struggled to compete in the previous Skills for All, deregulated programme, where students received a government funded place at all eligible providers. But Rod Camm, from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training sees no case for saving TAFE, “with the latest statistics showing that it is not able to deliver training as effectively as private registered training organisations and adult and community education providers.”

“This decision will decimate the private training market, leaving only a handful of providers left if and when the government decides to reintroduce genuine competition,” he said.

Mr Camm claimed only 5000 new places will include student choice and called on the federal government to withhold $65m in funding for training in the state.

Cash that counts

As CMM predicted yesterday, it did not take long for critics to seize upon the Universitas 21 comment that the Australian Government spends comparatively little on higher education. In fact, it took the National Tertiary Education Union about five hours to point out that, “the U21 rankings show that as a system, our universities and their staff have been able to produce high quality graduates and research with fewer resources than comparable countries,” national president Jeannie Rea said.

“These results support the NTEU’s argument that the government’s plans to cut university funding and allow universities to charge students whatever they like for a university degree will undermine the strength of our world class public higher education system.”

Good-oh, but surely the impact of investment is what is being measured. Where the money comes from is a different argument.

In contrast Universities Australia appears to have decided the stat was so stark it spoke for itself. “Universitas 21 report shows Australia ranks 44 out of 50 countries for public investment in unis.”

“We cannot keep cutting back on funding for university education and research with our fingers crossed that Australia’s quality university system can be maintained at the level demanded and expected by our students and our community,” UA chief Belinda Robinson added.

Uni Sydney’s worse result is pretty good

There is a great deal of positive response from the thousands of staff and students who participated in the University of Sydney‘s strategic survey – but on the core attribute of education there is work to do. Some 48 per cent of students think it is hard for them to meet their educational goals at the university. Specifically, 15 per cent said limited subjects and content were the problem and 12 per cent cited poor teaching.” CMM has seen worse numbers.

Ahelo and goodbye

The OECD is keen on the idea of standard tests for university students around the world, PISA for higher education institutions, is how it is described.

“It’s hard to improve what isn’t measured,” the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said at a meeting at Tsinghua University last month.

“Comparing student learning outcomes can help individuals to make better informed choices and employers to assess the value of qualifications, universities to understand their comparative strengths and weaknesses, policy makers to quantify stock and flows of high level skills and to assess value for money,” he said.

And without comparable outcome data, “judgements about higher education outcomes will continue to be made on the basis idiosyncratic rankings derived from higher education inputs.”

Which is why the OECD is keen for work to start now on a 2018 roll out of the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes. But even on the OECD’s optimistic take establishing measures that are internationally applicable and agreeable appears very hard indeed, and CMM suspects that doing it would be even harder than it looks. But it would be easier than presenting the data. The institutional comparisons in the EU’s U-Multirank make the point and take the prize for being confusing, complex and cumbersome. AHELO looks like a scheme that only metricians with global ambitions could love.

All insulin

The University of Sydney reports, “researchers have drawn inspiration from a 19th century map, commissioned by Napoleon to chart his defeat in Russia, to show how insulin works in the human body.” This CMM, who has a rough idea of the difference between his butt and Borodino but knows nothing about insulin, had to see. But he didn’t. The university video is very informative but it is all insulin and no Grande Armee. CMM must have missed something.