No rush

The Commonwealth Ombudsman tweets its website has “a new space for private education providers registered to enrol international students!” The Ombudsman took on oversight in 2011.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features, David Myton looks at the looming shake-up facing England’s highered sector

Birmingham attacks universities over spending

Simon Birmingham seized on 2016 university financials released yesterday (below) to claim the system can absorb the MYEFO cuts but he went further, much further, using the data to justify the end of the demand driven system.

And he made it clear that the current cuts are the higher education system’s fault;

“I find it staggering that when we, last year in the budget, called for an efficiency dividend of a very modest couple of per cent or so to be applied to universities, they said they couldn’t afford it. … So, we are now having to try to constrain that out of control spending growth in a different way,” he told Steve Price on Macquarie Radio yesterday.

Tough stuff, which got tougher; “our research tells us that universities saw some 15 per cent growth in their per student funding over a period of time, yet that certainly hasn’t flowed into increased expenditure on the actual teaching, or learning support, or students at universities. So, money is going elsewhere, in administration, in marketing costs, and so forth.”

And he made it plain that the cost of the Opposition and minor parties blocking funding cuts was the end of the demand driven system;

“The demand-driven system that was operated and put in place by Julia Gillard allowed universities effectively to write their own cheque each year. What we have said after some time of trying to get other reforms through the Senate that have been blocked time and again by the Labor Party, is that if we are not going to achieve reform on that front, what we will do is we will limit the size of the cheque, and that’s exactly what we’ve done by saying there won’t be a growth dividend in 2018 or 2019 to one of their streams of funding.”

This is calculated to drive the higher education community nuts. Last night Universities Australia acting CEO Catriona Jackson responded; “this is just the latest example of the government trying to blame everyone other than itself for the impact of its $2.2 billion cuts to higher education.”

“The government’s own figures make the case against the $2.2 billion in university funding cuts because they show that university operating surpluses fell by 5.5 percent from 2015 to 2016.

University surpluses as a share of their revenue also fell – and that surplus margin is now at its lowest level since 2009. And almost one in six universities are in deficit.”

CMM suspects Senator Birmingham will not care, that he thinks his is an argument that will sell electorally and will effectively neutralise higher education as an issue at the next election. With Labor showing no sign of promising to re-establish demand driven funding he may be right.

Elite accreditation for UoQ biz school

The University of Queensland’s business school has had its AASCB business accreditation renewed for four years. It is one of 15 Australian schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. It makes for a good start for new dean Julie Cogin, who joins from UNSW.

UA marks down Business Council but keen to cooperate

While pointing to “misconceptions” in the Business Council of Australia’s tertiary education plan, peak body UA says it is “keen to work constructively with the BCA to develop ideas for effective policy proposals.”

Universities Australia is critical of last year’s BCA strategy on fundamental grounds, notably the business body’s position on demand driven funding, which; “encourages the view that the demand-driven system of funding university places imposes unpredictable, ongoing increases in the fiscal cost of higher education.”

UA also rejects the idea that an integrated tertiary education system could be supported with existing resources; “ This implies a zero sum game. There is no reason to lock in current levels of total funding where these are not adequate. The solution to inadequate VET funding is better VET funding – not even more inadequate higher education funding.”

And it warns against attempting to improve VET by risking HE success, through a single funding system. “The last thing anyone would want is for Australia’s very successful higher education sector to be subjected to the kind of rapidly changing, poorly considered policy and funding interventions that have damaged VET in the past decade. This would harm higher education and do nothing to improve VET.”

However UA concludes that it is, “keen to work with BCA to develop further the elements of a stable policy and funding framework that enhances the strengths of our existing system.” For a start it suggests steps business should take, including: providing high-quality work placements,” working, “with universities to develop higher-end vocational programs in higher education,” and research co-investment, “to create high-value add products and jobs.”

This is sensible stuff. With Simon Birmingham not publicly well disposed to universities just now UA needs to run a policy debate independent of the government. It needs industry help to do it.


Michele Allan will continue as chancellor of Charles Sturt University chancellor until 2023. Her present term expires in December.

Leigh Schmidtke is confirmed as the new director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, which is supported by Charles Sturt U, the NSW Wine Industry Association and the NSW department of primary industry.

Lee Whiteley is the first CEO of the University of Tasmania University College. The college offers associate degrees designed to meet skill shortages and provide employment-study pathways, notably in the state’s high-unemployment north.

Maths “the music of construction”

Marnie Hughes Warrington comes closes to heresy in the first essay for 2018 in her chronicle of constructing the new ANU – suggesting that other industries can be as financially fiendish to administer as universities.

Cash flow monitoring for a university budget is complex because major sources of income such as student fees and grants may be received in large blocks, as against more evenly spread expenditure needs. Construction project cash flow is recognised as even more complex again because of the need to order and pay for materials and workforce in sequence when there looms the possibility of delays such as those caused by weather,” the ANU DVC writes.

And what makes it work is maths, “the music of construction.” “People may rattle on like echo chambers about the need for us to step up the pace in maths education, and to value maths more, but when you see a construction project buzz it is apparent in a concrete way that maths is critical.”

As her many admirers know, Professor Hughes Warrington is an historian of ideas who takes a very broad view of her brief. A couple of years back she conceived a passion for activity based accounting and now it seems constructing cash flows is another.

Science still not in the room where it happens

Scientists were cross when science was consigned to the outer darkness of an assistant minister’s office in the PM’s last shuffle. Science and Technology Australia and the Australian Academy of Science were especially upset when Mr Turnbull did not respond to complaints (CMM January 17 ). But all is now well, with STA reporting “government sharpens science focus in cabinet.” This is based on a promise that Innovation Minister, Michaelia Cash, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg plus CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall and Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will all work on a new project to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Good-o, but the member of the executive responsible for science is still assistant minister Zed Seselja.

In the money: the universities with billion dollar incomes (and all the others)

Cash up, earnings down: Australian universities earned $30.147bn in revenues in 2016, up 5.4 per cent on 2015. Their adjusted operating margin was 4.7 per cent, or $1.422 bn according to figures released yesterday by the Department of Education and Training. Standout revenue increase was international student fees, which grew by 16 per cent. Staff costs across the system grew by 5.6 per cent. The system surplus was $1.6bn, down from $1.7bn in 2017.

Billion dollar earners: The big-income unis in 2016 were: UniMelb ($2.277bn), UniSydney ($2.167), Monash U ($2.065bn), UNSW ($1.819bn), UoQ ($1.751bn), ANU ($1.181bn) and RMIT ($1.107bn).

Above average returns: Universities with adjusted per centage operating margins above the system average (4.7 per cent) were:


UniNewcastle (9.1), UNSW (8.1), UTS (8), UniSydney (6.5), Charles Sturt U (5.3), UniWollongong (5.1), UniSydney (6.5), Macquarie U (5)


UniMelb (6.5), RMIT (6), Latrobe U (5.1), Monash U (4.9)


USQ (7.3), QUT (5.2), USC (11.6)


Murdoch (10.7) ECU (5.8)

South Australia

UniAdelaide (6.7), UniSA (6.6), Flinders U (5.8)


ANU (5.7)


Australian Catholic U (6.2)

In the red: Institutions in the red were, Federation U (-03 per cent), UoQ (- 0.7 per cent), James Cook U (1.2 per cent), UTas (- 1.6 per cent), Victoria U (-3.1 per cent), Charles Darwin (-8.8 per cent) and Batchelor Institute (19.3 per cent).

The University of Queensland loss was due to a methodology change, which increased depreciation expense by $35m and a one-off expenditure growth ahead of revenue. James Cook U says its loss was due to “a decline in student load due to increased competition, and reduced Commonwealth funding.”