The $21.8bn industry is going gang busters says Simon Birmingham

plus “I see a landscape of opportunity,” new UA chair Margaret Gardner

and the Jason Bourne chair of cyber security studies – it’s only a matter of time

Love is blind

Just in from CMM’s well-what-do you-know! desk, news that QUT behavioural economist Stephen Whyte and a colleague analysed 219 000 contacts by 41 000 Australian dating site users to find that aspiring daters contact people with none of the characteristics they specify.

Gardner to lead UA

The members of Universities Australia have elected Monash University Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner their new president. She will take over from Western Sydney U VC Barney Glover when his term expires in May.  Professor Gardner joined Monash in 2014 from RMIT, where she was VC for nine years. In addition to her UA appointment she is also a director of the Group of Eight.

Welcoming his successor, Professor Glover described her as “a tremendous champion for equity, diversity and excellence in higher education, as well as a tireless advocate for the role of universities as global drivers of enterprise and innovation.”

“She will make an exceptional chair of Universities Australia.”

below: The endless optimism of Margaret Gardner: UA’s new chair talks to CMM

Citation for cyber spook studies

The federal government will name approved universities as Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence, recognising teaching and research in preventing digital dastardry (sorry). The endorsement is designed to support universities which Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham says “are on the frontline training up the cyber security professionals combatting the threats Australia faces’. “Non-conflicted” experts will assess applicants, which will be wise to include industry partners.

Beyond $1.9m to run the accreditation itself and “some” support for establishing centres there is no funding, but the programme will be popular among universities keen to get on in the cyber security space and addresses the projected 17 per cent workforce shortage of cyber security staff by 2020. CMM awaits the first chair of Jason Bourne studies.

First Slayter medallist

Mark Westoby is the inaugural Ralph Slayter medallist for outstanding biological research. ANU has minted the medal to honour the late Professor Slayter, a director of its research school of biological sciences and the first chief scientist of Australia. Professor Westoby is a research ecologist at Macquarie University.

Long haul at Liverpool

The University of Wollongong is expanding at a scorching pace in a place far warmer in summer than Dubai (CMM yesterday) – Liverpool, in southwest Sydney. The new campus was announced last May and is on schedule to start teaching this semester – albeit to not many students. 150 have enrolled so far but the university says another 100 offers are out, with pathway and postgrad student numbers still to be settled. It’s certainly a start, UoW is in for the long Liverpool haul, in a region growing faster than its coastal homeland – more courses will be on offer next year and the university is budgeting to spend $100m over ten years growing the campus, creating competition for Western Sydney U, which has long had the southwest of the city to itself.

High rent town

News that Sydney is the tenth most expensive city in the world for renters was retweeted yesterday by Curtin U media. CMM is sure it was in the interests of scholarship and certainly not to make a point about Perth being cheaper for students.

Export ed going gangbusters

The less good than great news about the $21.8bn international education industry keeps coming, with the Department of Education and Training releasing news on December-January enrolments. Across 2016 there were some 554 000 international students in Australia, up 11 per cent on the previous year. Higher education led with 306 000 overall enrolments, up 12.9 per cent on 2015, followed by VET’s 187 000 students (+11.6 per cent). However, growth in the ELICOS market was slower with 150 000 people enrolled, a 4 per cent rise. (Schools and non-award courses make up the remainder).

Growth is set to roll on, with a 10 per cent overall rise in commencements and strong satisfaction among internationals. According to Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham, the latest International Student Survey found 89 per cent of the 65 000 sample were either satisfied or very satisfied with their Australian education and talk up their time here when they return home. “Benefits will also be long lasting as international students create a massive diaspora of Australian friends and advocates across the world,” he says.

“With record student numbers and record student satisfaction, 2016 was a ‘gangbuster’ year for international education in Australia and the vital role it plays in our national economic and social prosperity,” the minister adds.



Margaret Gardner’s grand vision

the incoming chair of Universities Australia is endlessly optimistic for what higher education can accomplish


Monash University’s vice chancellor looks out her office window and likes what she sees, “looking at our wonderful new students in Orientation Week you can’t but be optimistic,” she tells CMM.

It’s not just the students that encourage her confidence in Australia’s universities now and in the future. She talks of bipartisan political support for higher education, of the Australian people’s belief in the transformative powers of education and their curiosity for research.

Australia’s university system is one of the strongest in the world, it’s the outcome of long-term support from the Australian people,” she says.

And the times will suit Australia and its universities, as long as we maintain our commitment to globalisation and an open economy as other nations retreat into reaction. It’s a commitment that created the international education industry which is “a significant part of the future and a commitment which she believes will build an Australian knowledge economy in which universities “are a very significant way of generating ideas and growth for the future.”

Research and innovation will support new Australian industries,” for example in medical research and materials science which have “direct links to global companies.”

Australians get this, she adds, “people are interested in new knowledge and innovations flowing from research.” But there is still work to do, “universities have to communicate what is being done, where the impact will occur, where the benefits will come from.

“We can’t expect everything we talk about will translate into support for funding.” But no ministers can’t relax, Professor Gardner adds “there is a climate of support in the community.”

However, while universities are set up to take advantage of a global knowledge economy there are strengths to defend and adjustments to make. Professor Gardner is adamant that student-centred funding should stay.

“Universities are here to provide opportunities for all who can benefit. If we don’t do this we short change all with the ability. In Australia, the economic possibilities that derive from higher and tertiary education are very significant.”

Her emphasis on all post-school systems is quite conscious because Professor Gardner is keen to see improved pathways between training and higher education. There’s never been a strict separation between university and VET,” she says, “universities offered diplomas before Dawkins and we need to look again at the post school system overall.”

“There is room for a re-think at the margins on the relationship between diplomas and sub-degrees.”

But what of the issues that divide her members? Professor Gardner responds by pointing to the many more that unite them. “Very few systems engage in international education as Australian universities do. The intensity is different but they all research.”

“We start with what we share and we share more than divides us. There are a huge number of things where the system comes together and has unified positions on what needs to happen next.”

And whatever comes next Professor Gardner welcomes it.

“I see a landscape full of possibilities and we have the capabilities to deal with them.”

At least she’s talking

University of Tasmania VC Peter Rathjen is on a roll, with his vision of transforming Tasmania through education and research being backed in the state, well at least the south of it. But in the north not everybody is impressed – a Sean Ford story in her local  paper quotes Senator Jacqui Lambie saying  there is a “course availability crisis” in Burnie and Launceston. She wants the university to spend some of the $150m the feds have provided for the university to expand in the two towns to digitally deliver courses now only available at the Hobart campus. The senator says she and her team will work closely with Professor Rathjen on this. This is an improvement on last September, when Senator Lambie  said unless the VC released a masterplan for Burnie and Launceston campuses by Christmas he should resign.

Time’s tight

Back in December Simon Birmingham welcomed the Higher Education Standards Panel’s proposals for undergraduate admissions and appointed an expert panel to work out ways to implement them for the 2018 academic year. But have any of the experts have noticed the time? Universities are already setting their strategies and planning to produce product for recruitment campaigns that need to be in place in a few months. CMM hears the expert group, which includes high-profile DVCs E (the highest!) is still at talking about what they need to talk about stage.

File fast

The University of Wollongong is inviting research partners to participate in its forthcoming case study collection on impact. This is terrific timing given the Australian Research Council last week briefed (CMM February 14) research offices on content of the impact pilot for the next Excellence for Research in Australia report. The ARC wants case studies and quantitative data in environmental sciences, agricultural and veterinary sciencesengineeringeducationcreative arts and writing and language, communication and culture, most of which UniWollongong has covered. But aspiring contributors should get cracking, submissions to the pilot are due in May.

Competitive federalism

Western Australia Labor leader Mark McGowan promises to create a Future Health Research and Innovation Fund if he wins the imminent state election. It appears to be modelled on the national Medical Research Future Fund, funded by interest from a capital account. While no amount is mentioned the fund, “will focus on research relating to cancers, child health and other diseases in which WA has an international standing.” Good-oh, but why not avoid overheads, give the money to the MRFF on the proviso that it is used to fund research in Perth? Surely ensuring the WA Health minister gets to make the breakthrough announcements isn’t that important? Sorry silly question.