Group of Eight and ATN reject flagship courses

facing the music at ANU

business books don’t furnish a room at Western Sydney U


Reasons to be cheerful parts (numerous)

The positive psychology group at the University of Melbourne advises the institution “is part of the emerging international positive universities network,” (via Twitter yesterday). Quite right. There can’t be much that rich and famous UniMelb has to be negative about.

Tuesday July 26

Best in the west

The WA Premier’s scientists of the year shortlist is out. In the headline category the nominee are public health researcher Carol Bower (Telethon Kids Institute), Curtin University conservation scientist Kingsley Dixon, geo-scientist Zheng-Xiang Li, also from Curtin, David Sampson from the University of Western Australia who works in imaging science and engineering. The early career scientist of the year will be one of Kaiming Bi who works at Curtin on earthquake engineering and structural dynamics, UWA fluid mechanics researcher Scott Draper, paediatrician James Fitzpatrick from Telethon Kids and Jun Li, whose study is civil engineering diagnostics, at Curtin.

UWA claims all the finalists in the student scientist of the year category as its own.

Flagship under fire

The Group of Eight response to Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s discussion paper on higher education reform goes to the heart of the primary policy challenges for universities. And it isn’t just deregulation of undergraduate fees anymore, (so Christopher Pyne, my dears).

The Eight reiterate their call for reform to demand driven funding. This lines the group up with former Labor education spokesman Kim Carr but not with other university lobbies, such as the Regional Universities Network, which opposes what it describes as leaving DDF in place for students with high ATARs while introducing “soft caps” for others (CMM yesterday).

The Go8 argue demand driven funding has led to growth in undergraduate participation rates, but at the expense of sub-degree programmes. It proposes “a re-framing and broadening of the aims of the system – to broaden attention from degrees alone to the full range of knowledge and skills demanded for our economic future, and the programs spanning from certificate through bachelors to post-graduate studies that support them.”

As to deregulation, the Eight argue against Senator Birmingham’s proposal for deregulation-light through ‘flagship courses’.

“There is a risk that such a proposal could distort incentives for universities and entrench a two tiered system of university education between flagship courses and others – both between and within universities. It is unclear how the introduction of flagship courses would increase participation rates for students from low SES, ATSI, and rural and regional backgrounds.”

The submission also calls for an update to the funding model for Commonwealth Supported Places, now, as it states, in place for 30 years. And while it advocates for the ATAR, which “is correlated with retention and success in higher education,” the endorsement is carefully phrased; “the use of the ATAR for university admissions recognises academic achievement in schooling and thus is an important element in maintaining a high standard education system for Australia.”  “Important element” leaves room for a mass of alternative entry schemes.


BEHERT: building innovation

The Business Higher Education Round Table was building innovative industry-university links way before they became a higher-education funding fundamental. “Clusters of innovation and excellence are the critical incubators of new technology. Building linkages between the academic and business worlds is vital for rapid transfer of ideas. We need to identify sectors where we can get some comparative intellectual advantage and build on those strengths,” BHERT urged in 1998. Rather than just advocate the Round Table acted, creating awardsfor collaboration and innovation between industry and education and winning projects  over the last decade are still relevant. In the last year universities and voced providers have taken Malcolm Turnbull’s advice to embrace innovation; expanding appointments, investing in industry-linked research and reaching out to potential partners. The BHERT awards should be a core part of their plans.

Another broadside for Birmingham

The Australian Technology Network does not like the flagship proposal (above) either; “it is very difficult to see how (it) would be workable and it has the potential to create perverse consequences,” ATN states in its response to Senator Birmingham‘s paper. However it also calls for an extension of demand driven funding for sub degree places without any mention of capping undergraduate education. “In the first instance it may be worth considering focusing expansion to enabling, preparation and bridging programs at universities,” the network notes. It is also keen on existing universities keeping their hands on the cash. “Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding should not be extended to registered non-university higher education providers.”

Infection expert to Adelaide

The University of Adelaide and the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network have jointly appointed a chair based at the Lyell McEwin hospital. Mark Boyd will lead teaching and research and supervise junior medical staff. Professor Boyd is an infectious diseases expert previously at the UNSW based Kirby Institute.

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Facing the music at ANU

Musical chairs continue at ANU with Malcolm Gillies to conduct the School of Music for six months while community consultations on the school’s future continue and a permanent head is appointed. Professor Gillies is a former ANU DVC and vice chancellor of both London Metropolitan University and City University, London. He replaces Royston Gustavson, who returns to his role as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The music school hasn’t been on-song since 2012 when former VC Ian Young’s proposed restructure upset staff, students, and the wider Canberra cultural community, which has a proprietorial perspective on ANU. However former public service commissioner Andrew Podger has made progress since he was appointed in February to review the school. His consultation paper calmed concerns and there are hopes that his final report, due next month will end dissent, although some suggest trying to achieve his recommendation of 200 undergraduates and 20 PGs in five years will be a symphony of sorrowful songs. There have already been unsuccessful moves to fill the permanent job and serious contenders now will be watching carefully for responses to the Podger paper.

Leggat to lead

Peter Leggat from James Cook University is the new president of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine.

But which ATAR?

The authority of the ATAR erodes again with the University of Sydney announcing this year’s run of its E-12 (early entry) scheme. E-12 is for year 12 students from a “financially disadvantaged background and/or are attending a government identified ‘low socioeconomic’ high school.” To qualify academically applicants need to meet the E-12 ATAR cut-offs which “are lower than standard” plus the HSC requirements for their nominated course. Successful applicants also receive a $5000 scholarship, an iPod and “lots of support to help get you started at uni.”

This is all in-line with the Group of Eight position on entry standards which is that ‘adjusted’ ATARS should be identified as such but it also demonstrates how even academically elite institutions no longer expect school leavers to apply on the basis of the ATAR, the whole ATAR and nothing but the ATAR.

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Caution at WSU

If Western Sydney University management knows how many jobs are to go via the voluntary redundancy scheme VC Barney Glover announced on Thursday nobody is saying. CMM hears the official position is it depends on the Australian Taxation Office approving the proposed package as an eligible termination payment. This is generally assured for university VRs but you can’t criticise Professor Glover for being cautious. That is certainly how he came across to some of the 150 people who heard him speak in person on Thursday (the address was also broadcast across the WSU network). While new student numbers are not what were expected his analysis of the financials struck some as gloomier than warranted. Perhaps he is worried by what the election campaign, where higher education was barely mentioned, presages for the university’s funding, a reader suggests. Unless he was signalling that the next round of enterprise bargaining will be tougher than the existing agreement. Understandable if he was, the existing deal back-ended the most generous annual pay rises, with a 3.8 per cent pay increase this year.

Books that do not furnish rooms

Also at UWS, business school staff are preparing to move into their flash news digs in the Parramatta CBD but some are upset that the new accommodation means no room for all of their scholarly libraries. But not to worry, the dean’s office promises to move “a small allocation of your academic books to your homes,” even more generous, “there will be some surplus to stock bookcases (limited) available for staff for books transferred home.” But if anybody wants the ones they have now, forget it.  “These will not be the bookcases currently in your offices.” There is no word if staff have to supply their own boxes to take more than a “small” number of books home.

Toxic incentive

In Greg Hunt’s brief as Innovation Minister there will be a page headed with a warning of politically toxic content. It’s advice on Bill Ferris, Alan Finkel and John Fraser’s report on the research and development tax incentive. Their report was delivered weeks ago and now awaits the minister to put on a hazchem suit and respond, because whatever he does will upset people, plenty of people. The incentive accounts for $2.2bn of the total $3.1bn government allocates to R&D. Critics have long complained it is applied too liberally, that what it costs would pay for the NHMRC and ARC programmes and then some. Advocates reply that without the incentive commercial research notably in bioscience stops. The problem for Mr Hunt is that if he decides to let it stand it will become part of the base for the next innovation initiative. As the Productivity Commission pointed out yesterday; the 2014 industry innovation policy and last year’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, “add to, rather than replace, an existing number of business innovation and collaboration programs.”


Down, down TAFE is down

CMM wondered yesterday that if voced completer employment rates are so much better than those of new university graduates why are VET numbers in a slow but steady decline? It’s an even better question this morning, with new stats from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training showing the number of people in publicly funded training was down 3 per cent in the first quarter on the comparable 2015 figure. TAFE dropped 7 per cent, compared to a 1 per cent decline for community trainers and 0.2 per cent for “other registered providers”. The biggest drops by occupational area were in IT, down 20 per cent and management and commerce, which dropped by 30 per cent. South Australia bucked the trend, up 60 per cent, admittedly off a low base, to 37 000 students, however the NCVER suggests that this is due to reporting anomalies which is not likely to be sustained.