Plus Uni of Sydney’s stand-out corporate campaign

Heartbreak Hotel

Warnings of “$100 000 degrees” are like sightings of Elvis, absolutely fictional, Christian Porter (Lib-WA) said in the House of Reps yesterday. He was followed by wilde at heart Melissa Parke (Lab-WA) who suggested that what she saw around the chamber was a bunch of Lady Windermere’s fans, that the government knew the price of everything educational and the value of nothing.

The pair were participating in a Labor initiated debate on the government’s higher education reforms in which they and the other speakers re-stated all the arguments from deregulation debates marks one and two. But why? The government still says the legislation will go, again, to the Senate in the spring session, but declines to be more precise. The debate’s timing troubled CMM, until the penny dropped – it was Labor’s idea of a birthday present for Christopher Pyne.

Yes, it was Minister Pyne’s birthday yesterday, which he celebrated by co-hosting the Second International Education Roundtable in Parliament House. “Any time more than two or three people gather in a room with Christopher Pyne it is always a celebration of Christopher Pyne, but today he has thought kindly enough to invite 100 or so of his closest personal friends along for this birthday celebration,” Training Minister Simon Birmingham told the rather restrained revellers. CMM wonders whether the National Tertiary Education Union sent a card.

ANU June 2

Their rights at work

The Fair Work Ombudsman is targeting international students with information on workplace rights. And quite right too, given allegations of exploitation of students enrolled at Melbourne private training provider St Stephen Institute of Technology. Perhaps the ombudsman should also explain to training regulator the Australian Skills Quality Authority what can happen to students. Yes ASQA suspended St Stephen’s registration last week, but it had previously accredited its courses to 2020 (CMM August 7).

Didn’t take long

The day after the Medical Research Future Fund passed the Senate research oversight organisation Cancer Australia presented a comprehensive statement of its circumstances. “The incidence and prevalence of cancer in Australia is increasing while the associated mortality rate is decreasing; future improvements in cancer outcomes will be influenced by the effectiveness of our current and future cancer control strategies,” CA states. This is a serious study, which does not just suggest CA’s work is uniquely underfunded. In fact, some $1.77bn for 4900 grants was spent between 2006 and 2011, making Australia per capita comparable with the US, UK and Canada.

Instead, CA makes a calm case for how resources should be used, with one especially interesting suggestion for supporting researchers; “whilst the National Health and Medical Research Council is the largest funder of people-support scheme awards for cancer research, strategies which reduce the reliance on a single funder may improve our ability to support cancer researchers through the career continuum. … Approaches which bring together different funding sectors such as health insurers, industry, service providers, state and territory governments and chronic disease organisations to collaboratively fund awards, could provide a strategic approach to increasing the number of awards in these areas.” Gosh CMM wonders whether the MRFF could help with this.


New opportunities

Training Minister Birmingham made a too-often ignored point at the export education forum yesterday (above), that there are big sales to be made taking Australian training overseas. “In many places that will be the real growth opportunity of the future, for our training bodies, for our education institutions, to deliver in-country, in-market, the quality training that they provide.” But are struggling TAFE systems in any shape to do it?

Superior Sydney stands out

A US survey of 50 universities found their marketing all sounds the same, using similar slogans to position institutions on the same benefits without quantified commitments that give prospective students any idea of what they actually do differently to the competition. There are, Gallup’s Nate Dvorak and Brandon Busteed argue, “a host of undifferentiated brands ripe for disruption.”

Sound familiar? It should. Many Australian universities have interchangeable brands and mission statements which they could swap around without anybody noticing.

But not the new University of Sydney’s brand campaign “leadership for good starts here”, which is rolling out (CMM yesterday) on rail station billboards, buses, posters and in social media. There are 29 versions, all with a famous UoS alumnus and a defining quote, including “I will give people a second chance at life,” for surgeon the late Victor Chang, “I will shape a city that will dance on the world stage” for present city lord mayor Clover Moore and “I will champion equal opportunity for all Australians, for Gough Whitlam.

This is a brilliant dividend on the university’s vast brand equity, a way of asserting the 150 years of intellectual authority that comes from being the country’s oldest university. It will appeal to youthful idealists and resonate with alumni, hopefully including those wondering what to do with their fortunes. And it less asserts than assumes that, to adapt (non graduate) Paul Keating, “if you did not study at Sydney you are just camping out.”

Sure, it does not mention issues that interest pragmatists among prospective students, course quality, employment outcomes – but that is the implicit point, Sydney students have their eyes on the stars.


Nothing to see here

Flinders University VC Colin Stirling tells CMM why the university council meeting has not debated whether Bjorn Lomborg should be invited to move in: “a small group of advocates exercised their democratic right to attend Council proceedings, they seemed disappointed that the matter wasn’t on the Council agenda, but overlooked the fact that no proposal has as yet emerged so there was nothing for consideration.”

Never misses a tropical trick

Last week James Cook U announced it would teach out a media degree, so local rival CQU promised to expand access to the same subjects. And while JCU has long had a higher education monopoly in Cairns, CQU has now opened up there and is working to win hearts and minds in the city. “CQUniversity is assembling a crack team of researchers for a new flagship research centre based in Cairns, with a vision to revitalise Northern Australian tourism and regional growth,” it announced yesterday. This must drive James Cook management in Townsville nuts.


Worrying signs from Hillary land

Barack Obama made higher education a third order election issue in 2012 and now Hillary Clinton intends to elevate it a couple of ranks. Back then the president had lieutenants, VP Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk about everything from the cost of college to the cost of textbooks but now Mrs Clinton says she has a plan to make community college free (sort of) and reduce graduate debt. While the early reviews are positive in parts the overall message for Australians is that it’s better being a student from a low or middle income family here than there. But what is relevant is the way Mrs Clinton is tapping the fear that higher education isn’t always a great investment. As graduate numbers increase thanks to open access we can expect to see some of the same.