Plus Simon Marginson’s rankings master class

No boundaries

Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city – again! So, why not come here and study?” Deakin University tweeted, yesterday. Presumably only at the suburban Burwood campus, unless of course they include Geelong and Warrnambool, which are a ways out of town.

Minister’s not for burning

Students across the country protested against Chris Pyne’s deregulation package yesterday, including burning him in effigy. “Does asking students to pay only 50% of their total fees (the rest covered by the taxpayer) really warrant burning effigies? ” Mr Pyne rhetorically asked. Evidently not, as Sky TV News showed, one set of students set fire to their cardboard Chris for the cameras. But it kept going out.     

Work with what you’ve got

Metrics maven Simon Marginson will conduct “master classes” on “lifting performance in university rankings,” in Sydney and Melbourne next week. “Regardless of the limitations, biases and problems of particular measures, rankings govern university reputation and student choices, … (they) shape the overall reputation of Australian universities on the world stage,” the sales spiel for the sessions states. As well as a range of briefings, participants will “brainstorm” “lifting institutional performance” in the key international rankings and Excellence for Research in Australia. But surely this only validates an unjust culture of competition, which reinforces neo-liberal control of education. As one cogent commentator on rankings puts it, “University rankings are marred by limiting, reductive and reifying qualities. These rankings are by most reasonable definitions ‘unfair’. This is not a pathology of the technology. It is a mark of its uses and its rationale for existence. Rankings reflect prestige and power; and rankings confirm, entrench and reproduce prestige and power.” At least that is what Professor Marginson thought in 2009 when he published the above in an essay, “University rankings, government and social order.”


In breaking news

“Sufficient food vital for functioning ram sperm,” – University of Western Australia headline yesterday

Dog ate homework

The Australian National University community is debating university-wide penalties for submitting assignments late. Colleges now set different deductions, ranging from 2 per cent per day to a flat fail. A standard 5 or 10 per cent penalty is proposed. The student association favours 5 per cent. “Students are a particularly vulnerable group that should have a safety net for unexpected issues,” ANUSA argues. The “purpose of university is to encourage the pursuit of knowledge rather than merely mirroring the ‘real world’, something we put in inverted commas, because there’s obviously a flexibility in deadlines in the real world.” Course there are.

Turf contest

They keep it competitive in the tropics. Last week James Cook University announced sponsorship of the Townsville Fire women’s basketball team and neighbouring CQU has now signed with the Cairns Taipans basketball franchise. Forget the idea of a local derby however, the Taipans are blokes. Otherwise it looks like part of strategy by CQU VC Scott Bowman to go wherever James Cook is. He has a study centre in Cairns, where James Cook has a campus and is announcing today a centre for DE students in Townsville, home to JCU. It will make Townsville “a two university city” Professor Bowman ambitiously asserts.

Voc ed ignored

Apparently National Skills Week starts on Monday and one the organisers needs to work on is self-promotion. According to a recent survey vocational education is not on most Australians’ radar. “It seems that universities have done a much better marketing job,” the Victorian Vet Development Centre suggests.

Get them young

CMM reported new National Centre for Vocational Education Research work on school student engagement and education/occupation outcomes at the beginning of the months but the full report, based on Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth data is now out. According to Sinan Gemici and Tham Lu, school plays a much smaller role than character and family background and circumstances in shaping young people’s futures. “Overall, the results paint a sobering picture about the ability of school attributes to raise the engagement levels of 15-year-olds. It seems that by this age the die has been cast, ” they write. If school has any “meaning effect” on student engagement it occurs before year seven. That’s a message worth hearing by education deans and by Minister Pyne’s committee on teacher education – the primary years matter most. And emotional intelligence matters as much, probably more, as ATARs in making a teacher who engages with young students.