Plus odd couple: why Jeannie Rea and Belinda Robinson are winners this week

Long goodbye

Carol Nicholl and Ian Hawke resigned from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency yesterday, after both being on leave for nine months. The departure of founding chief commissioner Nicholl and some time interim CEO and part-time commissioner Hawke was widely anticipated after passage of regulatory reform legislation. The new act was shaped by last year’s report on TEQSA by professors Kwong Lee Dow and Valerie Braithwaite, who were critical of TEQSAs original approach. Former University of Newcastle VC Nick Saunders will continue as acting TEQSA chief pending a permanent appointment. Professor Saunders was widely considered to have done well when he appeared before the recent Senate inquiry into the government’s higher education legislation.

More is less unless less is more, more or less

When the export education industry was created 20 years back people complained that rich foreign students would outbid local kids for university places. It did not happen because it couldn’t. The government fixed the number of Australian students a university could accept, regardless of international enrolments and the foreign students created their own place through their fees.

But warnings that international students will push out the locals are back. Senator Glenn Lazarus raised it in explaining why he would never vote to deregulate undergraduate fees.

“Some universities have also said that, should the reforms get through and funding is cut, they will have to look at increasing the intake of international students who are able to pay more for higher education and, as a consequence, reduce the number of placements offered in courses to local Australian kids. So not only will the cost of courses go up but also the opportunities for Australians to attend university will be reduced because there will be fewer places available.”

140481 SCAPA When does science matter ad - Campus Daily Mail

So giving universities the power to set their own fees will reduce domestic demand, which will lead to them recruiting more international students which will then cut even more places for locals.

Except if preventing universities increasing their fees will force universities to enrol more international students who pay more than the locals. And as University of Queensland VC Peter Hoj explained the other day, universities are full up to pussy’s bow already so the extra internationals would force out locals.

Barney’s way

Some 11 months after Vice Chancellor Barney Glover took over at the University of Western Sydney he has taken the departure of 30-year university veteran Rhonda Hawkins to complete his own management structure. With Ms Hawkins going her former position of DVC (everything) plus provost disappears. Her portfolio is broken up with a raft of roles going to a VP for marketing, student services and HR (I think that is what “people and culture” means). There are also standard operating divisions run by DVCs academic and research plus a chief financial officer. But none of them have anywhere near the authority Ms Hawkins had acquired over the years, funny that.

New! Improved! Ads with extra optimism

If a government gets desperate enough to sell an unpopular policy it will come up with a reason for an information campaign, in the public interest naturally. Which explains rumours Chris Pyne’s office has TV adverts and social media messages in development, explaining why deregulating university fees will not hurt at all and suggesting a degree will make graduates richer than Ritchie Rich (conditions apply). But (use of public funds aside) there is one big problem with this sort of campaign; the government generally uses the department’s comms suppliers. So there is arthritic advertising from agency Brown Beige and Cardigan and social media from tech shop Fixie Hirsute Cider. But we never find out what their work is like because once the bureaucrats have vetted the creative reads like a report on fire safety written in Middle English.

Perhaps not this time. Mr Pine’s chief of staff is former Monash and Griffith universities marketing director, Meredith Jackson, a woman who knows much more than a bit about selling to prospective students and their families. In 2013 she created a superb, award winning, recruitment campaign for Griffith. So let us hope she gets involved in any advertising for deregulating university fees. It will ensure the government (if not taxpayer) gets value for our money.

CEF - Xmas Appeal - OutbackRoadNewsletter Banner[728x310]

Ask an expert

But what do the experts think advertising should attempt? I asked Chrissa Favaloro from Australian Catholic University, who created a great student recruitment campaign, Life less Ordinary, which speaks precisely to the university’s audience and its aspirations, here’s an example. Ms Favaloro says ACU research indicates deregulation as an issue is not biting in the market (so much for degrees as debt sentence!). So to present it to her target audience she says the government should make its case to young people, especially those without much family experience of post school education, and then film them talking about their hopes for life, work and family to show how the reforms will deliver what they want. Good-o, but what happens if students are ambivalent about what they hear, and it shows to camera? The department runs the agency adverts (above) is what.

Enjoy it while it lasts

As Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane pushes for an applied research strategy come Tuesday the University of New South Wales will hear a celebration of the way things should be when physicist and Nobel laureate Serge Haroche delivers this year’s Dirac Lecture, “the beauty and serendipity of blue sky research.” Apparently he will, “illustrate the long road from fundamental discoveries to technological innovations using examples from his own field of research in atomic and optical physics (and) reflect on the dangers that blue sky research faces and explain why it is essential to protect it and to make it thrive, in spite of present economic difficulties.” Enjoy it while it lasts.

Unintended inequities

People who work in equity must think they are cursed. Ever since the Bradley Report recommended programs to lift university enrolments among people from low SES backgrounds bureaucrats have mucked about with funding and goals. It looked for a while that they might stay safe in the deregulation debate but that ended when Minister Pyne started talking about scholarships and the Regional Universities Network and Group of Eight united to support equity funding for the former.


It now seems that money previously available to all universities for equity programmes will, if deregulation MkII passes, only be available to some. Yes, the explanatory memo states, funding “will target activities that foster opportunity and support success in higher education by people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” but, and it is a big but indeed, the cash will be specially available at “regional and outer metropolitan universities.”

This is not good for equity programmes at other universities, which now receive a share of some funding and can compete for more. The result is that no one seems to know whether 2015 funding, which was assumed to be in the pipeline a couple of weeks back, will actually flow. According to Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia, “we have hundreds of staff who may not have jobs after 31 December, partnerships with schools and communities in disarray and no ability to execute plans for 2015 or beyond.”

Winners of the week

Some won this week for getting what they wanted others for simply surviving.

National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea had a huge win when the Senate threw out Education Minister Pyne’s deregulation legislation. The union can claim a great deal of credit for the $100,000 degree as debt sentence campaign and lobbied senate crossbenchers hard. It was an in-house campaign that appealed to academics and student leaders rather than the general community but it shaped the context in which senators examined the legislation.

Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson wins the Fitzgerald first-rate mind achievement award for holding contradictory ideas at the same time and still functioning. All week she argued the deregulation legislation was essential for universities, their staff and students while explaining how much more money was needed to make the deal acceptable. Even more important, the uneasy UA coalition in favour of the deal held (University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker excluded). Given the obvious ambivalence of some VCs to deregulation and the off the record rejection by others this is a great achievement. Of course,Ms Robinson has to keep it up for another ten weeks.

While deregulation dominated debate Chief Scientist Ian Chubb continued making his case for a national research strategy, including an emphasis on applied research in disciplines where Australia has a comparative advantage. (Professor Chubb does not like people reducing this to a simple “picking winners” slogan.) Normally this would have the research establishment up in arms but with everybody distracted Professor Chubb is constructing his case in meetings and speeches, interviews and papers without challenge.

Warren Bebbington won, less for winning than not losing. The University of Adelaide VC held onto the state government dental clinic contract in a tender against the University of South Australia, which does not teach dentistry, but was keen to start. It cost the university $50m or so for a 30 year deal but it was money well spent. Without the clinic, where students learn their trade staff would have deserted to the new Uni SA school – unthinkable for the U of Adelaide establishment.

But the biggest winner was Chris Pyne, for the way he was the biggest loser. You don’t have to like Mr Pyne or his plan (many, many don’t) to accept that he works very hard and never gives up. He came close to getting it through the Senate this week and he will keep trying until the next vote.