Plus dancing with the czars: what must universities do to attract industry? 

Gilding the Lilydale

As good as its campaign word, the Victorian Government is accepting proposals for Swinburne University’s former Lilydale campus. Given Swinburne could not make a success of the site the university might be interested in what is proposed. Unless, that is, management prefers to forget unhappy memories, the university was hammered in a federal court case brought by the National Tertiary Education Union over the way it handled the closure in 2012. The university could find no takers when it sought to sell the Lilydale facility two years later (CMM July 14 2014). The problem for developers was said to be the site’s education zoning. CMM wonders if anything has changed.

CEF June 15 2

Mixed messages

Chris Pyne’s export education advisers are expected to meet this week and CMM hopes they have marketing co-ordination on the agenda, especially in South Australia, where the state government has announced a $5.7m campaign to attract international students to Adelaide. This will be on top of efforts offshore by Austrade, individual universities and private providers to sell Australian education.

The prospect of yet another campaign is not going down well with the feds and their friends in Adelaide industry who are cross with the state government for excluding private training providers from competing for publicly funded places for next year. Federal training minister Simon Birmingham says 85 per cent of international VET students in South Australia are studying in the non-government sector. According to Senator Birmingham this makes the ad campaign, “a demonstration of overall policy inconsistency, with one arm of government not realising the impacts of another arm of government.” Not to mention demonstrating government faith in quick-fix campaigns – brands are built over decades not by splashing cash about when there is a political problem.

Kensington consensus

This is the last day for UNSW staff to vote on the proposed enterprise agreement. On top of wage rises already paid, (2 per cent and then 1 per cent last year and 1.5 per cent in January) the deal pays 1.5 per every six months from July through to January 2018. According to the campus National Tertiary Education Union, the total salary increase, “is on par with the rest of the sector and maintains this workplace’s position as a leading pay site.” The draft agreement also includes ten days of paid domestic violence leave and “no trade offs or loss of conditions” for all staff.

There is, however, some digging in on academic performance management in the agreement, indicating the union expects a push on staff productivity. The union says it has secured a range of measures that spell out how performance is measured and that require staff agreement to higher/lower teaching requirements.

The NTEU says its members unanimously endorsed the deal and urges all other staff to do the same.

Low growth

People who worry about competition in education exports say sooner or later China will get serious about attracting international students. But not, it seems to Hong Kong. In 2008 John Cribbin (University of Hong Kong) concluded that HK was not set to be a major supplier and he says this is still the case. New international students (mainly fee paying) are restricted to 20 per cent of the 15 000 first year enrolments annually. “Whilst HK could be described as a quality education hub, it is unlikely to become a major player as an education hub once quantity is taken into account,” he writes. This is largely a policy choice, as universities are not under financial pressure to sell to internationals, even those over the border with the rest of China. Dr Cribbin can see this changing, but not yet, “it may well be that the Occupy Movement led by HK higher education students has given HK higher education a less than rapturous reception by the mainland authorities.”

NUHEP numbers

TEQSA has released its report on higher education staff and student numbers in all providers. The figures include non -university higher education providers who do not participate in the FEE Help system and whose students are thus not recorded in the Department of Education and Training’s HEIMS model. All up the NUHEPs teach 17 800. They also rely on casual and other fractional teaching staff, with numbers ranging from 54 per cent to 61 per cent of totals.

ANU June 3

Dancing with the czars

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane must be very pleased with the progress of his push to tie funding to applied research. The word may not have sunk in with everybody in the labs that there is going to less cash for analysing blue sky but university managements get what is going on.

Consider, for example, Monash VC Margaret Gardner’s pitch to industry. “Research and development is inherently risky, with high rates of failure. Companies are under pressure to deliver commercial returns to investors, yet the time frame for major innovations to be made often spans decades.”

Which is why industry needs universities – they have both smarts and stamina, “while there are no guarantees, the odds are good that your university research partner will still be there in five, 10, or 25 years,” she says.

Professor Gardner is certainly selling a university strength; the problem is how many CEOs think in 25-year product development cycles? Given Australia’s woeful OECD numbers on university-industry engagement perhaps not many. As Warren Bebbington said last week (CMM June 9), universities are ready but “it takes two to tango, and industry needs incentives too if they are to become more actively engaged in R&D with universities.” Given Professor Gardner was talking about the jet engine Monash has printed (no, not an image an actual engine made by additive manufacturing) it is hard to see what more universities can do to get czars of industry onto the dance floor.

Who would have thought?

UWA reports surveys finding people with pets are “significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighbourhood than non-pet owners.” Even if you wear a collar and leash, taking yourself for a walk just does not cut it.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. A really talented QILTer corrects me that a team associated with ANU, not ACU, manages the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching data assembly and analysis.

Sewn up

It looks like the QILT team has data management for the three surveys; on student satisfaction, graduate outcomes and employer satisfaction, all under control. If QILT works it will provide Australians with a fantastic resource, a robust and reliable measure of higher education experience, which people will be able to use to compare institutions. QILT predates the Pyne deregulation plan but would have been essential for a competitive market, potentially based on price, to work. Even without a market, QILT can provide prospective students with comparative information that is far more meaningful than league tables based on research and staff metrics. But it isn’t imminent. The Department of Education and Training website states QILT “will be fully implemented by the second half of 2015,” which sounds optimistic given online data collection is still scheduled for November.