Young Australians keen on campus: strong growth in education 

plus entry standards hold up under student centred funding

 and Birmingham spells it out

universities must deliver on information, attrition and outcomes

 La Trobe lives it up

LaTrobe U is 50 next year and the university is supporting a bunch of commemorations, including a dinner to celebrate the Department of Chemistry and a launch for the upgraded community garden. Life is lived on the wild-side at La Trobe.

UNSW extends itself

UNSW will introduce a new academic timetable in 2019 as planned, with three ten week terms and an optional five-week summer one. This all seemed set to go until a couple of weeks ago when DVC Education Merlin Crossley acknowledged “challenges” for staff and convened briefings (CMM November 14). They must have done the trick, (a comprehensive student guide cannot have hurt either). Yesterday Professor Crossley announced the UNSW3+ model would start in 2019.

Quiet and getting quieter

It’s quiet at Deakin U’s Warrnambool campus and set to get quieter. Earlier this year Deakin tried to find another university which thought it could make Warrnambool a success, with shrinking student numbers Deakin had decided it couldn’t. But with no takers Deakin said it would stay, but that there had to be cuts, deep cuts as it turns out. CMM hears nine from 19 Business and Law staff have taken voluntary retirement, which leaves just two law lecturers at Warrnambool. This looks like leading to law students there getting their lectures live on-line from the Burwood campus. Um, students heading to city campuses is what led to Warrnambool’s decline in the first place.


New discipline director at ARC

Therese Jefferson is the Australian Research Council’s incoming executive director for social, behavioural and economic sciences. She joins the ARC from Curtin U where she is the business school’s research director. Associate Professor Jefferson replaces Marian Simms.

Birmingham spells it out

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham used yesterday’s undergraduate application and acceptance figures (below) to remind universities what he expects from them. For a start they have to act on attrition; “as student populations become more diverse universities and higher education providers need to ensure those students who are enrolling are being encouraged and supported to complete their degrees – and not just becoming another number on a seat.”

They also have to help students understand what they are in for. “Students must know what they are signing up for. We must support them better before they enroll as well as supporting them better during their studies.”

And he wants universities to provide courses that translate into jobs for graduates that, “match their passion for particular topics with long-term job opportunities.”

Jobs huh? That’s what the man says; “my focus is on how to ensure more Australians who start a course, finish and end up in the workforce.”

So that’s information, attrition, outcomes. Sounds to CMM like the basis for a new policy of incentives and punishments.

PVC Pike

Rob Pike is La Trobe’s new PVC for the College of Science, Health and Engineering. He was previously the director of the university’s Institute of Molecular Sciences. Professor Pike replaces Graham Schaffer, who resigned after a bare two years in the job, having moved from the University of Queensland to take it. (CMM September 1).

Faith rewarded

Australians have drunk the campus cool-aid with millions of adults deciding study is the best way to secure a future. According to new numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the jobless rate for graduates is 3.2 per cent, a substantial 5 per cent better than for people without a post school qualification. Some 80 per cent of people with a bachelor degree or higher and 75 per cent or so of those with a diploma or Certificate III/IV are in work, compared to 67 per cent of working age Australians with no study after Year 12.

“These numbers reinforce that beyond the many other benefits, having a university degree significantly reduces your chances of unemployment,” Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson says.

Young Australians have clearly got the message. As the BoS shows, in May 2.3m people were enrolled in a non-school course this year, with significant increases in participation among the young over the decade. In 2006, 56 per cent of women aged 15-24 were studying, now it is 64 per cent. The increase among blokes was 55 per cent to 61 per cent. In training men favour certificate courses, 22 per cent to 16 per cent of women. The ratios reverse for diplomas, 17 per cent women, 12 per cent men. However the genders are equal for undergraduate degrees, 42 per cent men and 41 per cent women.

Sunday in the park with Jan

Outgoing VC of the University of Southern Queensland Jan Thomas’s world music theatre tour continues (CMM Monday). After seeing Hamilton in Chicago she’s now in London for Cindy Lauper’s Kinky Boots. CMM wonders if staff at Massey University, where Professor Thomas is about to become VC, know this and are already practising Sondheim songs to greet her. But from which show?


The state of undergraduate demand

Demand growth slows: Demand for undergraduate places has stabilised with 2016 total undergraduate applications up 1.7 per cent and offers decreasing by 0.7 per cent, to 83.5 per cent, according to 2106 figures released yesterday by the Department of Education and Training. “The offer rate is a good measure of the way universities are responding to student demand following the introduction of the demand driven system in 2012,” DET suggests.

Healthy increase: The most popular fields of study among applicants, ex WA*, is health at 25 per cent, (up 6 per cent). IT was up 4.5 per cent and creative arts recorded a 5 per cent hike.

IRU up: The Innovative Research Universities group recorded the biggest increase in demand, up 5 per cent, the Regional Universities Network and Australian Technology Network groups were stable while demand for the Group of Eight was marginally down, by 0.7 per cent. However the Group of Eight was the most selective by far, accepting just 74 per cent of applicants, compared to 95 per cent for the RUN group.

The Atar argument: The new figures demonstrate how misplaced is the obsession with the ATAR as a proxy for quality in the demand driven funding market. For Y12 university applications the average ATAR was 76.4, down from 79.9 in 2010. Since 2009 the share of applicants with an ATAR under 50 receiving offers has increased from 0.82 per cent to 2.9 per cent, still only 8215 people. Overall some 61 per cent of overall applicants offered a place did not use an ATAR.

So much for the terrible teacher scare: State ministers who fear people doing education degrees with abysmal ATARs can relax. Of the 23 000 offers for places in teaching degrees 72 per cent went to students who did not apply on the basis of an ATAR. But if ministers want to suppress demand for teacher education courses they succeeded, applications were down on 2015 by 5.3 per cent. And universities appear keen to demonstrate their control of quality, offers were down 3.3 per cent, to 81.7 per cent.

Under-represented groups: Applications and acceptances from people in the bottom SES quartile both rose by 1.6 per cent, however at 82.7 per cent offer rates are marginally lower than the overall figure, 83.5 per cent. The application rate from regional residents is around 4 per cent under their proportion of the population. The same situation applies for Indigenous Australians. While applications rose by 8.6 per cent Indigenous Australian applicants accounted for 2 per cent of the total – their share of the total Australian working age population is 2.7 per cent.

*National figures did not include Western Australia to avoid being skewed by the second year of the WA half cohort. This was caused by splitting 2003 school starters into two years to bring the state into line with the rest of the country for school years, with stats from WA artificially reduced in 2015 and increased this year

Saini joins ACU

New University of Canberra VC Deep Saini has joined the board of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. Professor Saini took over at UoC in September. He was previously a vice president at the University of Toronto.