Federation U makes its case to Rick Muir

Plus why universities need VCs who run

Market signals (i)

This morning La Trobe University is announcing offers of a  1000 prospective undergraduates places for 2015 courses at a guaranteed price for each year of a standard degree under its ASPIRE programme. Yes this is September, months before students have exam results and yes no one knows for sure what courses will cost if Education Minister Pyne’s deregulation packages passes the Senate. ASPIRE offers are made on the basis of academic aptitude (vouched for by a teacher), community contribution and leadership. The scheme applies to most La Trobe degrees and there is an entry score floor.

While there are similar early-entry schemes all over the country, what makes ASPIRE unique is the guaranteed price. Students starting under this scheme will pay a capped 10 per cent increase on the amount per place provided  by Canberra each year for the life of a three-year degree, commencing from the first year of deregulation in 2016, compounding in 2017. Given deregulation will require a price hike of 20 per cent to 30 per cent for universities to break even, ASPIRE is effectively a loss leader for La Trobe. This is a smart strategy, giving the university a point of difference in the competition for good students nervous about the cost of study, which will all but certainly increase more everywhere.

Market signals (ii)

New stats from TEQSA show the way providers are positioning for competition. Management and creative arts account for over half the new courses the agency accredited.

Market Signals (iii)

ABC TV news last night included a feature on VET – how apprentices will pay a fraction of the cost of deregulated degrees and earn more than graduates on completing their course. While the piece made it plain that graduates earn more over a lifetime it sold the cost of deregulation hard (I wonder what ANU will think about being cited as the source of estimates on increased degree costs?). All fair enough, it’s about time that VET got its case into the main media. But where did the claim about shortages of training places come from? Apprentice numbers have fallen consistently since the start of the decade.

 Starting behind

Last week was a shocker for supporters of deregulation, with Senator Glenn Lazarus (PUP-Queensland) locking in behind the no case, the National Tertiary Education Union making the running with the $100k degree claims and the Group of Eight alliance with the Regional Universities Network for a country scholarships fund upsetting all sorts of city campuses. But university leaders who can count say the situation is not as bad as it look for Chris Pyne’s package and that the G08-RUN plan may produce enough Senate crossbench votes to get a version of Mr Pyne’s plan over the line. All agree that senators Xenophon (Ind-SA) and Lazarus are definite noes and Day (Family First-SA) and Leyonhjelm (Lib Dems-NSW) supporters. However a regional assistance package might sway John Madigan (ex DLP now independent, Victoria). Which leaves the government three short – perhaps Senator Ricky Muir plus Senator Jacqui Lambie could be convinced by money for country campuses – although she is on the record as opposing deregulation and he has expressed concerns about the cost of degrees. But if they did move that still leaves the third PUP, Senator Wang from Western Australia, who if he sticks to the party line is a no. Even if the government is in the game it starts this week behind.

Secret for a long life

Flinders University’s Cameron Shearer is working on ways to extend the life of the batteries that power Collins Class submarines. Given the time the decision on a successor sub is taking 30 years should do it.

PUP whisperer

So what did Federation University Australia VC David Battersby tell Senator Muir, when they met on Friday? “It was a good opportunity to talk with him about the higher education reforms and potential impacts on FedUni in particular and regional universities in general. Senator Muir is certainly across all the key elements of the reforms and the exchange with him today was at a detailed level about particular aspects of the reforms. His passion and commitment to regional communities and regional issues are very evident,” the vice chancellor said (The senator comes from Gippsland resident where FUA now has a campus).

The university did well to get a chance to explain its achievements to a hugely important member of the Senate crossbench (they all are) and it reflects the success of the Regional Universities Network and its members in making its case to parliamentarians. RUN has had a sympathetic hearing from the Nationals and Senator Muir would be a valuable ally indeed if he was convinced by FUA. A pattern is emerging in who crossbench senators are listening to – Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie have met with NTEU representatives. The only Group of Eight institution that has announced a similar success is the University of Western Australia, who hosted Dio Wang back in July. But with individual institutions sending staff to Canberra to make their case to whoever will listen it is starting to look like every university for itself.

Race to the fittest

German finance academics Peter Limbach and Florian Sonnenburg identify a correlation between CEO fitness corporate performance. “Fit CEOs are associated with significantly higher abnormal announcement returns in M&A bids for large, public, and cross-border targets, concomitant with high stress,” they write. This is good news for Charles Sturt University, where VC Andy Vann runs half marathons and the University of AdelaideVC Warren Bebbington is a regular runner. (Other running VCs? Let me know).

Opposites attract

There are less leaks than illuminated addresses around the media about the government’s imminent innovation strategy and the way it will target growth areas in the economy and encourage academics and business to work together. Not that it is an old fashioned winner-picking industry policy, Minister Macfarlane assures us – the evidence for which is, well Mr Macfarlane’s assurance. While this is going on Chris Pyne wants to create a higher education market. The Liberals always say their party is a broad church.

Comings and goings of great and good

With Kerry Cox gone from Edith Cowan University DVC Academic Arshad Omari has taken over as acting VC. He will hold the fort until February when Steve Chapman arrives from Heriot Watt University in Scotland. At the University of Adelaide Bruce Lines arrives from the University of Canberra to become Chief Operating Office. He replaces Paul Duldig who moved to the University of Melbourne as head of services in June.

Lambie lost

The NTEU is playing a blinder in the Pyne v everybody else deregulation game. The union’s “$100 000 degree” warning is now widely accepted as fact rather than speculation. And photos of prominent people (well Labor and Green politicians) holding purple signs denouncing dereg has become a campaign – the union is now using them for other issues – as at Southern Cross University, where union members have launched a pre-emptive protest against any unannounced job cuts. But what I want to know is what happened to the photo of Jacqui Lambie holding a purple poster. It was prominent on the NTEU national website until the senator suggested Australia needed to double defence spending in case China decided to invade.

Special-ish stars

Macquarie University assured the world “it is a workplace like no other” in a recruitment advertisement on Friday. “From our inception we have crossed traditional boundaries,” it asserted. Apparently one of the things that make it special is its five star rating from the QS World Rankings, cited in the ad. Special in the sense that only 16 Australian universities have five QS stars. Still it’s a rating Macquarie values, which is good given QS charges around $US 30 000 for a stars audit and three year licence.