No news will be good news

Budget watchers are hoping for a quiet night next Tuesday, on the assumption that given the government’s current attitude towards universities no news is good news. “There may be some more money for individual  universities along the lines of local deals done with Southern Cross, Sunshine Coast unis and UTas but no one is expecting anything across the system,” one close observer says.  However there is talk of money for applied research as part of an innovation spend designed to muffle the howls that will greet all but announced cuts to the research and development tax concession. But overall a quiet night is expected, there isn’t even a lock-up for education policy people.

Bebbington’s on-song appointment

Warren Bebbington will chair the board of design college LCI Melbourne, part of a global 21-campus chain, founded in Canada. The college was created 20 years ago as the Australian Academy of Design and is in good standing with TEQSA.

Professor Bebbington was VC of the University of Adelaide from 2012 until 2017, when family circumstances necessitated a move to Melbourne. The appointment builds on his management and governance experience at UniAdelaide, the University of Melbourne and as director of the Victorian College of the Arts.

The college is bang on the national average for overall undergraduate experience on the student survey based Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching, although results for some specific measures are not as strong.

The appontment is on-song with Bebbington’s long-argued case for specialist teaching-only colleges focusing on elite education for specific vocations.

There’s more in the Mail

In CMM this morning, David Myton’s regular wrap on what’s happening across the world in highered.

Group of Eight creates “coalition of the determined” on student access

The Group of Eight and the Australian Council of Social Service have formed a ginger group to  act on the core university access equity issue –  enough to eat and somewhere to sleep. This can especially impact rural and regional students who have the marks but not the money to live in commuting distance from Go8 campuses.

“While advocating for inclusive admission mechanisms are important, it is equally important to ensure we have support mechanisms within our campuses in areas such as student support, living allowances, and housing that are sympathetic to student’s requirements. We must also work to ensure government policy  provides the support students need,” the Eight states.

“This is very much about establishing a coalition of the determined to address the issues that can act as barriers to entry for students,” a Go8 observer says.

The two peak bodies have signed a three agreement to build policy resources and advocate for the basic needs of disadvantaged students. The Go8 is convening an expert roundtable to put bedrock equity in education on the agenda. “We must remain vigilant to changing government policies that may affect the vulnerable in the community,” the invitation to participate states.

Harrison moves to Murdoch

UWA’s David Harrison is moving to Murdoch U. The corporate comms and government relations chief leaves UWA after six years.  According to Murdoch VC Eeva Leinonen he will be responsible for “vice chancellery managerial affairs.”

UniMelb unionists vote for industrial action

Union members at the University of Melbourne have voted to take protected industrial action as enterprise bargaining progresses from prolonged to protracted. Just under 70 per cent of National Tertiary Education Union members on campus turned out for the poll, and 92 per cent of them supported direct action, including possible 24-hour strikes. While the union does not represent a majority of staff, industrial action by members will increase pressure on management to settle a process now running for over a year. Among a raft of outstanding issues are a single agreement (management wants separate deals for academic and professional staff) and an explicit statement of freedom of expression in the new agreement (management says it is already protected). And they are not even arguing about money yet.

New supercomputers for Pawsey

Demonstrating commendable modesty, the prime minister announced Saturday morning $70m in funding for the Perth based Pawsey SuperComputing Centre. It is part of a bucket of infrastructure money for WA, undoubtedly awarded according to the highest policy principles. Pawsey will use the money to replace two supercomputers, one of which supports the Square Kilometre Array. The funding matches money provided to the National Computational Infrastructure in December.

Stand-off at Charles Sturt U

Charles Sturt U management is upping the pressure on the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union to settle on a new agreement. On Friday DVC Toni Downes emailed all staff, spelling out the university’s pay offer and making it plain that two $500 payments are added to salary, and not as some assumed, one-off bonuses. She added management hopes to reach an agreement at tomorrow’s meeting.  However the union’s view is that there is much more than money involved and that management is holding out on issues including continuing caps on academic workloads and no forced redundacies.

CSU observers say management wants to keep the focus on money in case it decides to put its offer to a staff vote without union agreement. This worked in September 2013 when the union representing some support staff backed the university’s offer  and the NTEU opposed it.  The union is certainly preparing for management to do this again.  Late Friday NTEU branch president David Ritchie wrote to staff, listing unsettled issues and warning, “take it or leave it is not a negotiation.

“We ask all staff to be cautious should management try a similar approach, which would block the work of your colleagues to secure a good quality outcome for everyone.”


Dolt of the day

Is CMM who wrote Catriona Jackson was the “anonymous” choice for new CEO of Universities Australia, when “unanimous” was the word intended. Thanks to readers who pointed this out.

 Attrition and what to do about it

Having a go at university “is cheap and easy” and the the “default option” for many school leavers, the result is an attrition rate approaching 25 per cent, Andrew Norton, Ittima Cherastidtham, and Will Mackey  warn in a new report for the Grattan Institute.

The problem: Around 50 000 people who started a degree last year are not likely to finish. Most who drop out do so early enough to wrack up an average $12 000 or so in study debt – but this is not the only loss.

“The main long-term cost of not finishing a course is lost labour market opportunities. Most students have job and career reasons in mind when they enrol in university.  Without their degree, students may miss out on a career they wanted, and the additional lifetime earnings that, on average, graduates receive,” the report states. “Australia should do more to manage the risks and costs of enrolment.”

Higher entry standards wont fix things: Before opponents of the demand driven system dance on its grave the authors report that the proportion of students not returning after first year is only “slightly higher” than in 2006. “Given that the additional students tend to have a lower ATARs than typical students in the past, it is surprising that the growth in student numbers has not reduced completion rates even further.”

But too many people did not get what they wanted : The Grattan report’s survey found nearly 40 per cent of people who did not complete their course would not have started if they had known what the experience would be like. “Although their time at university might have brought some benefits, the cost were greater.”

So, what is to be done: The author’s propose four ways to address attrition:

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching should include outcomes for a range of variables, so students can discover what has happened to people like them. For example, the high-risk of studying part-time should be set out.

Universities should check enrolments to ensure students are taking enough subjects to complete in maximum allowed time.

Students should be warned of the costs of dropping a subject after census date

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency should monitor higher education providers for outcomes of students at higher risk of not completing, for example part-timers or people who fail a lot of subjects.

Shades of grey

Denholm Aspy from the University of Adelaide reports research showing taking Vitamin B6 can help people recall dreams however it does not effect their, “the vividness, bizarreness or colour.” Hardly makes sleeping worth the effort.

Why regional Australia needs its unis

Regional Australia relies on its universities for the skilled workers who keep economies afloat, according to new research.  A report commissioned by the Regional Universities Network found 69 per cent of bachelor degree graduates from the six RUN institutions were working in regional Australia, compared to 23 per cent of graduates overall. Across RUN member catchments, two-thirds plus of their graduates in health, education, agriculture and engineering, work full-time locally. “Increasing the skills levels of employees in regional Australia helps overcome skills shortages, protects regional areas from structural adjustment as the economy shifts to tertiary industries, and encourages population growth by increasing the diversity of jobs,” Run chair and University of the Sunshine Coast VC Greg Hill says.