“Mr Thin-Edge?” “Ah, Dr Wedge I presume”

plus count, don’t consult, to assess research quality in economics 


The Bradley Report consensus is starting to unravel with demand driven funding disputed and deregulated fees still ship shape  

Promises of plenty

Just because Simon Birmingham has put changes to university funding on hold for the election does not mean there will be no announcements. Whether Federation U takes up the offer the feds have offered $14m to keep a university campus in Warrnambool and the three Liberal MPs for northern Tasmania are expecting funds for the state university there. There is also talk of the University of Newcastle expanding its medical school into Gosford (facilities not new student places) on the NSW central coast.

Armada of undergraduates

There is an idea out there that the Liberals have surrendered on deregulation and only propose universities nominate up to 20 per cent of “flagship courses” to compete on price. In fact they are talking of 20 per cent of undergraduates, as well as courses, as Education Minister Simon Birmingham made plain in a Senate Estimates hearing last Friday night, (yes Friday night!) when pushed on the point by Labor’s Kim Carr. “Mr Thin-Edge?,” “Ah, Dr Wedge I presume.”

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Warming up

University of Melbourne management has plenty on its plate as it develops FlexAP, the third major transformation of the Davis era, which is intended to “improve the student experience by providing greater choice and flexibility in how they access teaching.” It is about to have another serving of strife, with the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union inquiring when management will get around to consulting on the professional staff classification structure, as set out in the existing Enterprise Agreement. The union says management does not want to consider the professional classification structure before the next round of enterprise bargaining next year. To which the union replies that the terms of enterprise agreements create obligations. Uni Melbourne could end up in the Fair Work Commission arguing over the enterprise agreement before arguing about the new one even starts.

Farrell stands again

The science community will be ecstatic that Don Farrell might be back after the election, being number two on Labor’s South Australia senate ticket. Don who? Oh come on, you remember Mr Farrell, he was briefly science minister in the Gillard Government when he was best known for making his colleague education minister “Silent ChrisEvans look voluble.

Absent evidence

The Productivity Commission inquiry into the nation’s education evidence base gives teacher education faculties an excellent opportunity to establish intellectual leadership in a paramount policy area (CMM April 12). But with a fortnight to go none have made submissions. In fact nobody has, apart from educational psychologist Kerry Hempenstall (ex RMIT). CMM assumes deans of education are not rushing things to ensure papers get a PC elephant stamp.

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Bebbington breaks out

Uni Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington tests policy ideas out of town, using the Times Higher Education, most of whose readers think Adelaide was William IV’s wife. Back in 2014 he used THE to propose elite higher education teaching-only institutions, on the US model as an alternative to the one-size-fits-all comprehensive Aussie uni. “It seems for some vice-chancellors, ‘demand driven’ means only that government should demand everyone is driven into the present public universities,” he said then.

He is at it again, saying nice things about Simon Birmingham’s discussion paper, (“an insightful document”) in the THE but suggesting demand driven funding, which the senator supports, leaves universities under-resourced. “Both sides of politics seem resigned to seeing available funding spread ever more thinly – rather than focused on adequately supporting a finite number of students, chosen equitably from all parts of society as those with demonstrated aptitude to succeed at university. In Australia, shrinking per-student public support for universities appears here to stay.”

Even though there is still widespread public support for demand driving funding CMM suspects Bebbington will soon be followed as the Bradley Report consensus collapses.

For that relief, much thanks

If the government is returned who will advise on the funding proposals in Simon Birmingham’s discussion paper? Vice Chancellors nervous at the prospect of being asked can relax. The senator told Senate Estimates (above) that he has not made up his mind on membership but as to not having serving VCs is “I think my instinct would be that that might be the case.”

Not reliant on rankings

Ratings agency QS is generously sharing its research on what Chinese students want from studying abroad. Apparently the top five things they value are institutions’; teaching quality, employer reputation, research, employment rate and academic reputation. And no, they do not just rely on rankings for information (honestly you people are such cynics). In fact QS reports; “”although placing a high value on external reputation, Chinese students also emphasise the importance of consulting less formal sources – particularly peer reviews – to establish the veracity of the image presented in rankings and official university websites.”

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Count don’t ask

As the Australian Research Council starts the slog towards ERA 18 here’s an idea – don’t bother assessing research, count citations instead, at least in economics. According to Stephen Burns (University of Kassel) and David Stern (ANU) early citations of economics papers can predict a university’s ranking over a decade. They base their case on citation counts for publications from economics departments in the UK and Australia which found; “the cumulative citations for articles published in 2003 and 2004 for a given university can be easily predicted by citations received until the end of 2004.”

They also found their citation ranking has “moderate to high correlations” with the 2008 UK and 2010 Australian research assessment reports. “Peer review as conducted in such exercises is not necessarily superior to a well-constructed citation analysis, which our artificial exercise here is certainly not,” they conclude. “If assessors are willing to consider citation analysis to assess some disciplines as is the case for the natural sciences and psychology in Australia there seems no reason to not include economics in this set,” they say adding it could also apply to political science.

A lot of names to remember

Science and Technology Australia is in the market for a new CEO, to replace Catriona Jackson, who is off to Universities Australia (http://campusmorningmail.com.au/labor-moves-cap-student-fees/ CMM May 6). The PD is refreshingly free of HR guff, (not a pro-active synergy in sight), which is a good sign. What’s not is having to work with 60 plus member organisations – ye gods, the factions will have factions.

Wouldn’t this be fun

Thanks to the reader who pointed to a not-to-miss 16-17 June EU conference in Barcelona, “Impact evaluation of quality management in higher education: a contribution to sustainable quality development of the knowledge society.” Participation is free, although the reader says they would have to be paid quite a bit to attend.


Not so innovative Aus

The pace of scientific and technological research and development picked up last year according to an analysis of Thomson Reuters‘ patents index and its Web of Science archive. According to TR, global innovation output has more than doubled since it stalled in the financial crisis in 2009. The medical device category  leads with a 27 per cent increase in activity in 2105 over ’14 while biotechnology declined by 2 per cent. But lest the prime minister starts banging on about innovation again, Australia’s comparative performance was marginal. Only the University of Melbourne makes any of the top performing research institutions industry lists; being eighth out of ten for publishing on food science and technology, (the University of British Columbia is number one). Still, at least UniMelbourne waves the flag. Last September no Australian university made the TR top 100 innovative universities list, ( CMM September 18).

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. A reader points out that CMM was wrong to describe the Melbourne Business School as owned by the University of Melbourne (CMM yesterday). In fact MBS is 55 per cent owned by supporters who provided foundation funding. The university is the minor shareholder and provides academic governance.