Plus Pyne plan stays secret and data delivers savings 

Enrolling starts there

The University of Sydney is extending its new interactive “Leadership Starts Here campaign with a campus poster wall for passers by to respond to “what will you start here?” That Sunday week is Open Day probably has something to do with it. This is a superior strategy to generic university recruitment campaigns of the “our graduates can be secretary general of the UN, (conditions apply)” kind.


Gilly pitches education

People in DFAT yesterday must have been bowled over by news of Adam Gilchrist’s appointment as ambassador to India. They are used to ex ministers in posh postings but cricketers would have been a pitch too far. But not to worry, Mr Gilchrist is one of those informal ambassadors who promote Australian achievements, in this case education, rather than representing the Commonwealth. According to Education Minister Chris Pyne, who did the appointing, “the Indian people recognise Adam as one of cricket’s greats, and the values he espouses both on and off the field – excellence and integrity – are precisely those with which Australia aligns its reputation for high-quality education, training and research.” This is not as much of a stretch as it sounds. Mr Gilchrist has played a lot of cricket in India and as a brand ambassador for the University of Wollongong promoted Australian education there. With vast voced demand in India he is a natural. But here’s hoping the Australian Skills Quality Authority is watching for spivs trying to trade on the new Australia – India cricket and training connection. The Test Match College of Wicket Keeping and Cookery will soon be in business if it isn’t.


Day of the day

It’s national maths day, which seems a smart way to end national science week. Apologies for missing the STEM subjects that had their days Monday-Thursday.

Commercial in confidence

Last week the Senate adopted a Lee Rhiannon (Greens-NSW) call on Minister Pyne to hand over “models and costings” on an anthology of issues relating to deregulation (CMM August 13). It followed attempts to access the documents under FOI, which failed in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It was never going to happen and Training Minister Simon Birmingham explained why in a letter to Senate president Stephen Parry. Apparently, the AAT accepted that, “the disclosure would be contrary to the public interest as it could influence the pricing of course fees in a deregulated higher education market and jeopardise genuine price competition.”

This puzzles CMM, if deregulation did happen what would the government not want universities to know before they went public with their fees? But it infuriates Senator Rhiannon. “Higher education is a public interest. The shifting of public money to private enterprises should be held up to public scrutiny. Cutting funding to public universities and TAFEs is most certainly in the public interest. Making students and their families pay more money to subsidise private education companies is also in the public interest,” she said yesterday.


Star struck

Oh good, another celebrity scientist stage show. Already this year Stephen Hawking (virtually) has performed, sorry informed, Sydney Opera House audiences and astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson is touring now (playing Sydney tomorrow and Canberra Sunday). Next up is astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s “Mission to Mars,” show, proudly brought to you by the Australian Academy of Science.

Another problem for-profit training

The responses to Simon Birmingham’s announcement of a crackdown on low quality childcare courses were predictable (CMM yesterday).

The Labor shadows for education, Kate Ellis, and vocational education, Sharon Bird, were outraged. “Labor is calling on the government to urgently crack-down on sub-standard training for early childhood educators. … It’s incredibly cruel to send students into the workforce with qualifications that are not trusted by employers. … But most of all, it risks placing children in the care of workers who might not be trained to the required standard – none of this is in anyway acceptable.” Quite right, in fact so right that Senator Birmingham had already made pretty much the same points and ordered the Australian Skills Quality Authority to act on problems identified in its own report.

Head of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, Rod Camm was also upset. He repeated the calls he makes whenever a substandard voced provider is pinged, for regulators to come down hard on crook colleges, and he promised to act against ACPET members found at fault. “What is becoming very clear is that we can not just rely on the application of the current standards. We must implement measures that separate quality providers from the ones causing damage to our industry. … If we are going to rebuild community and employer confidence in parts of the training sector that have been dogged by poor conduct or quality problems, then everyone must play their part: the providers, the regulatory bodies and the policy-makers.” Mr Camm said yesterday.

Correct response. The problem is cases of for-profit providers behaving badly turn up in the media often enough to erode the credibility of the entire industry. Evidence of childcare courses taking half the optimum time to complete give the TAFE lobby more examples to use in its argument that the private sector has no place in training.

ANU June 4

Data delivers

CMM is starting to suspect Christopher Pyne has already achieved a fair swag of what he wanted from deregulation. No, the government has not managed to outlay much less while students spend much more. No, universities will not be competing on the price of undergraduate degrees from next year. But across the country institutions are working on productivity improvements designed to increase research and teaching performance. Yes they would have preferred just to charge students their own additional fees but in the absence of Chris cash they are looking to do more with what they have – which is not all that far from what Mr Pyne wanted.

The problem is restructures are stressful for everybody involved, which is why William Massy’s work is so important (CMM August 17). The Stanford professor is a founding father of the emerging discipline of education productivity analysis, which focuses on activities rather than just costs, to identify how to make the most of resources instead of cutting outlays alone and ignoring the impact. Perhaps most important for managers who need to make savings, he advocates involving teachers in analysing activities and costs. The only way staff will ever own a process is if they work on it.

“Putting teaching activity data in the hands of faculty will be both worthwhile and well received – at least by some. And because much of the advantage arises from comparing results over time and across departments, it is desirable to model all the departments that comprise at least the undergraduate core of the university,” he writes in his forthcoming book, Reengineering the University: How to be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious (Johns Hopkins UP 2016)

Professor Massy’s work with the L H Martin Institute and his familiarity with the Brisbane based Pilbara Group’s activity based costing model is known to many Australian universities. But more need to be across it if the revenue stream the Pyne plan promised does not eventuate and government funding does not rise.

“Universities must ‘do what they have to do’ to live within their means, but it’s better for everyone if the decisions are based on meaningful evidence,” Massy suggests.