Government and universities agree on understandable undergraduate entry requirements

International graduates rate their Australian experience

and Education institutions worst for whistleblowers

at the University of Melbourne the union urges staff to prepare for industrial action

plus Streams of strife: the Murray Darling debate rolls relentlessly on

Australian universities strong in the Asia Pacific, for now

I for iced

A learned reader reports attendance at the International Education Association of Australia winter conference, in Brisbane this week, is double the norm. That IEEA met in a freezing July Melbourne last year might have something to do with it


Students come first in major reform to higher education entry

From next month students will have comprehensive, comparable information on study admissions and options thanks to government mandated plans.

The why: Education Minister Simon Birmingham has announced new transparent admissions requirements, developed by peak sector-bodies to operate from August. “Students need to be given clear and accurate advice, but too often the information on offer has been complex, confusing and inconsistent. That doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Some institutions already meet the benchmarks laid out in our plan but this will ensure all prospective students can get the necessary information and support to succeed at their studies and complete their qualification, Senator Birmingham says.

The what: The measures are based on the all but universally endorsed recommendations from the Higher Education Standards Panel and were developed by a higher education industry wide expert group chaired by incoming La Trobe DVC Kerri Lee Krause and including representatives from major peak bodies including, Universities Australia, the Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET), the Council of Private Higher Education (COPHE), TAFE Directors Australia and the Tertiary Admission Centres.

Higher education providers and government are required to reach six objectives over the next 18 months or in some cases by the end of 2018. They are: (i) consistent presentation of admissions information, (ii) a common admissions terminology, (iii) revise Australian Tertiary Admission Rank definitions and thresholds, (iv) Tertiary Admissions Centres to be consistent in reporting and (in a win for ANU which receives applications from multiple states) streamlining cross-border applications, (v) the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency to monitor and advise on admissions transparency and (vi) a national admissions information platform.

Providers will manage the first four and government the others.

The when: By next month all institutions must publish the first take of their information-set, including, whole of campus and each course admission requirements with entry options and entry criteria on-line next May for 2019 recruitment. By August this year the sector must adopt common terms around the ATAR with universal admission terminology in December. At the end of 2018 tertiary admissions centres will agree on a “core suite” of standard reports for use by 2019 applicants. In December this year the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency will provide draft guidance on admissions transparency and in February next it will monitor and report on institution performance. The Department of Education and Training will begin work on the national admissions platform this month, with a proof of concept model out in December and full release next August.

The what do you reckon: Good policy is always good politics. Today’s announcement means a bunch of work for HE providers and a world of pain for people who have clipped the coin of entry programmes and denied prospective students over many years the comprehensive and comprehensible information they needed to make the right course choice. That Senator Birmingham can say to cross bench senators that these new requirements demonstrate how his proposed cash-attached performance metrics for universities could work is entirely coincidental.

All in the timing

At the University of Melbourne, union leaders are preparing members for industrial action while management says it’s way too early to worry about that

With enterprise bargaining underway at UniMelb, union leaders are warning staff that management wants to “reduce or remove many of your current benefits.”

National Tertiary Education Union campus president Steve Adams and branch secretary Sara Brocklesby say  “we question the university’s agenda in rewriting major clauses of our existing agreement which have worked well for many years,” they say.

The NTEU is especially alarmed by the university’s push for separate agreements for academics and professional staff. “This would allow pay rises and conditions of employment for academic and professional staff to be significantly different, with the real prospect of professional staff losing out significantly.”

At universities with separate agreements, professional staff pay is between 1 per cent and 10 per cent lower and employment conditions are worse than for academics, Adams and Brocklesby warn.

They also detail management-proposed changes to conditions impacting academics including; “removal of existing regulation of academic workloads,” and “removal of academic freedom and intellectual freedom” protections.

And the two leaders warn that negotiation may not provide protection. “We may need to take protected industrial action to defend our hard-won gains and progress our claims for a new stronger agreement.”

Last night the university responded “that it is premature for the NTEU to suggest protected industrial action so soon after the nominal expiry of the current enterprise agreement on 30 June 2017.”  A spokesperson added that while bargaining commenced in December the NTEU did not submit its log of claims to March and its proposed alternative agreement only in May.

 As for two agreements, “there is no basis to support the union’s assertion that this bargaining approach will lead to lower wages and worse conditions for professional staff,” the spokesperson said.

The university also rejects the NTEU’s warning that academic and intellectual freedom will not be safe, stating it “is simply not true”.

Academic freedom of expression is a core value of the University of Melbourne. All university scholars are free to engage in critical enquiry and public discourse under the University Council Academic Freedom of Expression Policy.”

Big improvement

People old enough to know what a video cassette is will remember when X rated ones were Canberra’s major export.  Now it’s education.

The International Education Association’s conference yesterday heard that with 14 000 international students the nation’s capital earns more per capita income from overseas than any other city.

So much for speaking out in education

A new report rates education institutions low for the encouragement and protection they provide whistleblowers

As part of an ongoing project Griffith University’s A J Brown and Sandra Lawrence  report on the way managements in Australian and New Zealand private, public and not for profit organisations deal with whistleblowers.

Overall the Australian Public Service does best, with a mean score of 6.95 out of a possible ten. The 15 Australian education and training institutions surveyed do worse, scoring 3.89, below the manufacturing, wholesale and retail sector.

Brown and Lawrence suggest this might be because;

“Manufacturing, wholesale and retail not only tend to experience a high degree of casualisation of labour, lower professionalisation and high staff turnover, but some of the greatest competitiveness and performance pressures in the economy. Some of these factors are also present in some areas of education and training, which may also include institutions with a longer-term history of challenges with respect to responding to wrongdoing and recognising their duties of care towards clients and staff. In these industries, weaker whistleblowing processes can be seen as relating to conditions which impact on labour, governance and integrity standards much more generally.” What makes it worse, is that the education providers in the project volunteered.

For UWA no news is good news, at Murdoch U, not so much

While Murdoch U accepts it must make its case in public, UWA wants to keep good news quiet

In Perth yesterday Murdoch University abandoned its attempt to have a Fair Work Commission case heard in private. The university is applying to end the application of its now expired enterprise agreement. In the absence of a replacement, and negotiations with the National Tertiary Education Union are stalled, Murdoch could apply lower wages under the relevant industrial awards. Murdoch watchers suggest the university wants to cut costs, either under a new or old agreement but did not want its financial projections public, less they scare off students.

The news is much better at the University of Western Australia, although nobody there is talking until a new enterprise agreement is set to sign. However, a deal between management and union is definitely done, including a 5 per cent plus pay-rise across the agreement.  UWA watchers say this is a smart move by new Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, who drove a difficult restructure as DVC and now wants to reset relations with staff.

International grads like what they got

There is good news for the international education sector in a new report on graduate employment – it might soon need it.  

While international demand for Australian education is booming, the collapse of private training providers in the aftermath of the VET FEE HELP scandal is starting to have an impact overseas. “People abroad don’t understand what VET Fee Help was all about but they just sense that something is not quite right with Australia’s education system. Ironically, overseas students were never able to access VET Fee Help course places but our international education sector appears to have been made guilty by association”, a senior industry observer warns.

Butt there is a good news story to tell about the benefits of an Australian education, with a new report on international graduate employment for the Australian Universities International Directors Forum.

A survey of 3800 international graduates from all major markets (although there are more Malaysians than Chinese) found that 79 per cent of the 2012 cohort, either here or in their home country are in full-time employment. A further 4 per cent were self-employed and 6 per cent were studying. Both 2012 and 2014 cohorts had the same transition to work profile of Australians. Graduates who return home also earn higher than average local salaries, which given the cost of study here, must be a relief.  Overall big majorities of graduates are satisfied with their Australian education, 80 per cent in the case of those from China.

Honoured engineers

The Institute of Engineers has announced its choice of Australia’s most innovative engineers

Academics made the cut in five categories:

Community: Ana Deletic, UNSW. Andrew Woods, Curtin U

Electronics and Comms: Madhu Bhaskaran, RMIT

Manufacturing and automation: Xiaoke Yi, University of Sydney

Research and Academia: Elizabeth Jens, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (undergraduate degree from the University of Melbourne). Richard Kelso, University of Adelaide. Melissa Knothe Tate, UNSW.

Utilities: Sandra Kentish, University of Melbourne

The Murray Darling med school debate rolls rancorously on

The government is keen to demonstrate it is educating health professionals in the regions

Back in April Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie announced 26 regional health training hubs and three university departments of rural health (CMM April 18), including one for Charles Sturt University. The departments will train a bunch of health service providers, but not doctors.

Yesterday Dr Gillespie announced them again, because all the universities involved have now signed on and planning is underway. “Supporting rural health training is an important way to address rural health workforce shortages,” he said.

While Dr Gillespie’s press release productivity is commendable CMM wonders whether he is using every opportunity to demonstrate the government’s commitment to rural health, just in case the Charles Sturt U and La Trobe U proposed Murray Daring Medical School does not get the nod from the current inquiry on the distribution of medical training places.

But what will MDMS deliver?

Neither side in the MDMS debate is missing a chance to make their case in the regional media in areas the school would serve. Every time supporters suggest the MDMS will address the rural doctor shortage,  opponents, generally involved with existing medical schools with rural medicine departments, reply that undergraduate places are not the problem, the absence of on-the-job post graduate training places is. Dr Geoff Chu a consultant physician in Orange (and a University of Sydney clinical senior lecturer) makes the point again, adding, “enormous resources are being thrown into the Murray Darling Medical School.

“My plea and warning is that indiscriminately throwing large amounts of the public purse at a problem without a deep understanding of the issues through consultation, collaboration and thoughtful long-term planning is not only wasteful but is a recipe for failure as it won’t address our problem,” he writes.

This argument will roll on until Dr Gillespie announces whether or not the school is a starter.

Enjoy it while it lasts

 The Times Higher has extracted Asia-Pacific data from its world university ranking and while the news now is good for ANZ institutions the trend is not terrific

The National University of Singapore is number one in the Times Higher Asia-Pacific ranking, released this morning. It is followed by Peking University, with the University of Melbourne in third place.

The rest of the top ten is Tsinghua U, Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, ANU, the University of Tokyo and the University of Queensland.

Australia has five institutions in the second 20; University of Sydney (11), Monash U (12), UNSW (16), UWA (19) and the University of Adelaide (20).

All up 35 Australian universities are in the first 150 with four New Zealand unis rating in the first 100, University of Auckland (24), University of Otago (31), Victoria U of Wellington (=58), Lincoln U (71).

ANZ universities are the largest bloc in the top 100, ahead of China (including Hong Kong) at 26, South Korea (13).

According to Times Higher editor Phil Baty, Australian universities rate well for research impact but many are now ‘eclipsed’ on teaching and research scales by leading institutions in China, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Dolt of the day is CMM who yesterday reported cancer researcher Caroline Ford is at the University of Sydney when she is at the University of NSW.