plus UNE’s new degree-free sales strategy

TEQSA walks softly and carries a small stick

and UNSW and Melbourne Business School on top in business school ranking

Parking case study

It rather rained on Western Sydney U’s parade when four floors of the flash business school digs in the Parrammatta CBD were water damaged due to a faulty sprinkler just as postgrad courses were supposed to start earlier this month. But this is not the big issue exercising academics, which, as predicted by Clarke Kerr’s Law of university admin, parking for faculty. Acting business dean Sara Denize acknowledges there are not enough spots in the new building and proposes to allocate them by lottery, as soon as somebody works out how; “the details of this have proved to be more complex than we imagined,  we hope  to have it resolved soon,” she told staff last week. Perhaps she could set it as a case study for students to solve.

Not tough TEQSA

The Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency walks softly and carries a small stick, reminding higher education providers that the new HE Standards Framework includes a section protecting students from dishonest international recruiters. “TEQSA is aware of allegations concerning an agent who may be engaging in dishonest practices by enrolling international students with Australian education providers and handling refunds of tuition fees,” the agency advises.

Those who fear savaging by sheep will be impressed. But it occurs to CMM that TEQSA could at very least talk tougher. The VET FEE HELP catastrophe occurred because regulators either did little or were very mild in assessing providers.  The international education industry can not afford anything like it.

New boss for UoQ Press

Jill Eddington is the new head of the University of Queensland Press, she joins the press from the Australia Council for the Arts.


First denunciation of DDF for 2017

Prolific polemicist Ross Fitzgerald presents the year’s first media denunciation of demand driven funding, (unless CMM missed a Judith Sloan column in The Australian over the summer). Writing for the Fairfax papers yesterday the Griffith U emeritus professor argued students attain “worthless degrees” that lead to casual jobs and are “angry and resentful that the prize they thought they’d been promised is not within reach.”

“The unfortunate process benefits only entrenched educational providers and wastes vast sums.”  First step to reform, he says is “cutting back the tens of millions of dollars” VCs are paid “because the buck stops with them.” Quite a few bucks.

Ignoring such exuberant arguments is easy but in error. While the community has embraced the expansion of higher education, critics will find an audience as the sheer growth in graduates generates more stories of young people whose degrees do not deliver the jobs they expected.

Vox (quidam) populus

UNSW was out early this month with a campaign featuring students talking about how much they loved studying at the university. CMM suspects they were not the students whose overall rating of the university placed it fourth from the bottom in the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching released last month, (CMM December December 16).  But not to worry, local rival the University of Sydney was only two places in front.

Big in biz

The QS MBA performance review is out, assessing schools by academics and employers’ perceptions of research and graduate employability. The Melbourne Business School and the MBA programme at the University of NSW are among the 45 strong global elite.

On the Asia-Pacific list for employability six Australian institutions make the 20 strong cut; UNSW (2), MBS (3), UTS (7) University of Queensland (15), Macquarie U (17) and ANU. INSEAD’s Singapore campus is number one.

On research the Australian schools are, MBS (3), UNSW (4), ANU (13), Monash (15) and UoQ (19).

Other institutions to make the 250 world’s best, in no especial order are, the University of Wollongong, RMIT, Curtin U, University of Adelaide, La Trobe U, Griffith U, Deakin U, Bond U, UWA, UTS.

Chemistry is right

Tom Skelton is explaining how his department at Imperial College London got the gender equity chemistry right in a national speaking tour, he’s in Adelaide today. Professor Skelton is here for the Science in Australia Gender Equity Network.

UNE’s tasting menu

The University of New England is offering  individual subjects for sale to people who want to acquire or upgrade specific skills without taking on a full degree. “Bespoke Courses help you quickly and easily adapt to changes in the workplace by offering the freedom to choose two, three or four units from a single degree, or ‘mix and match’ units from different degrees that are relevant to you,” the university announces. And they “may count” to a full degree. Students have access to online support and receive an attainment certificate on completion.

As a distance education expert UNE has the teaching and admin infrastructure in-place to do this without a bunch of extra investment and has also arranged its own loan scheme for fees ($2900 for the first two units, $2500 for any others).

This will be a great low-cost revenue stream for UNE if it’s corporate brand is sufficiently strong to convince people that its subjects will make more of a market impact than MOOCS studied for free.

UniMelbourne bargaining to begin

University of Melbourne management has heralded the start of enterprise bargaining for the agreement scheduled to start this year, with Provost Margaret Sheil mentioning objectives including improved job security, enhanced personal leave provision and “salary and benefits befitting a world-leading university.” The university also wants separate agreements for academic and professional staff, which the National Tertiary Education Union advises are in place at ten institutions including UWA and UNSW.

One goal Professor Sheil specifies that is especially interesting is, “simplified and enhanced performance and reward frameworks,” which CMM suspects is intended for academic staff and refers to the outcome of the flexible academic programme project, intended to transform teaching and learning and in development for a year (CMM February 24 2016).

CAMM on the front foot

The legitimate private training industry had a terrible 2016 as the VET FEE HELP disaster unjustly sullied its standing. But now Australian Council for Private Education and Training head Rod Camm says it is time to get on to the front foot. This year ACPET will focus on leadership, engagement, getting the industry’s message out and shifting “the policy focus to drive harder the thinking and publication of innovative private sector tertiary education policy.”

TAFE on the up

There were some 1.08m students in the training system in the first nine months of 2016 a 4.8 per cent increase on the comparable period in the previous year, according to the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research. Some 56 per cent of them were at TAFE, up 13 per cent, 36 per cent at private providers, down 5 per cent with the balance in the community training sector.

Give us the resources we need and let us get on with our job says RN chair Greg Hill

Greg Hill suspects the community has moved on from Christopher Pyne’s proposals and will now wear higher education reform. Nothing dramatic mind, the government certainly must not touch demand driven funding, which is in the national interest, says the chair of the Regional Universities Network and VC of the University of the Sunshine Coast. But something has to give on funding and he suspects that the electorate might accept “some kind of package” being negotiated through the Senate. This could include include a fee increase for students as an alternative to the cut to university funding, still in the forward estimates.

But what he wishes Canberra would recognise for the long-run is that while universities are all funded in the same way the playing field is not level, that RUN members play a major role in their regions which is different to urban institutions. “Community engagement is central to RUN, we are exposed to the public’s gaze with missions that are economic and cultural, as well as educational.”

Changes RUN does not want to see this year are cuts to equity and access programmes. With a majority of students being first in family to go to university “RUN does much of the heavy lifting on equity,” Professor Hill says. Similarly, he would like to see any package include lifting the cap on sub-degree places. Expanded access to bridging courses would reduce undergraduate attrition, which Education Minister Simon Birmingham says is a priority.

But while RUN is relaxed about Canberra addressing attrition it would oppose any specified rate “Regional universities have a majority of first in family students and this needs to be taken into account,” he says. And Professor Hill is absolutely over the obsession with the ATAR, saying the focus on it is unfortunate and ignores the different circumstances of students who enrol at the sandstone universities and others.

As to government accomplishing anything by actively intervening in the way universities manage programmes Professor Hill is sceptical.  Certainly the present funding bands for Commonwealth Supported Places do not make much sense,” he says. But there will always be cross-subsidising and if overall funding is adequate the government should leave universities alone. “I’m not sure the government can solve the overall problem.”

Professor Hill is equally unimpressed by the idea of policies that try to tie what students study to the job market. Pointing to now abolished initiatives that reduced HECS liabilities for students in maths, science and stats he suggests government can’t you can’t force people into courses.

Which means the challenge for Canberra is to give RUN the resources its members need to meet their missions and leave them to get on with it. “Universities have to drive their own destinies,” Professor Hill says.