“Students work hard to make the most of a huge financial investment”

Big new training wheels

Training Minister Simon Birmingham announced the new industry-focused voced content development system yesterday. Industry Reference Committees will oversee training packages, which cover the qualifications for most occupations. The IRCs will ensure employers have input to product development. Federally funded Skills Services Organisations “will provide administrative, technical and operational support to assist IRCs in their engagement with industries.” The feds will run competitive tenders to select SSOs. And the Australian Industry and Skills Committee “will outline the expectations and processes,” for both IRCs and SSOs. Good oh – so it’s the IRCs with members who are “champions of skills development” that will run the show? Not quite. The AISC will oversight provider and training package standards, manage IRCs and allocate and assess SSOs. The AISC will also provide industry advise to a ministerial council. Canberra, the states and industry peak bodies nominate the AISC’s members. Everybody got that? The new system is scheduled to start in January, which might be enough time for people to get their heads around the structure, if not the vast number of people in the training system with new job titles.

The industry emphasis went down well yesterday with private providers. Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training endorsed the Industry References Committee, which mean a “strong focus on engaging industry in the process of training development and delivery.” But the National Tertiary Education Union was less impressed, saying Senator Birmingham had only taken advice from industry and not consulted with staff and students. “Doesn’t this government understand that involving all people with a legitimate interest in tertiary education, including students, staff and workers already involved in industry, will ensure that the final product will not only be of a much higher quality, but it is also likely to have broad support? National President Jeannie Rea asked.

ANU new 3

Standing up for standards

There was a great deal of detail denying yesterday as universities named in the Four Corners report on the business of international education rejected the specifics of accusations. But given allegations of soft marking and poor English roll around every few years the specifics universities sought to correct will not be enough to end a general sense that academic standards are not always paramount. Instead, Universities Australia did just about the best job possible by pointing to systemic measures “to address the risk of misconduct and maintain Australia’s reputation for providing high quality education.”

And UNSW DVC Academic Iain Martin stepped up, telling staff; “I am not aware of instances at this university of plagiarism being ignored or of pressure being exerted to pass under-performing international students. I would act immediately if any such evidence was presented, and I urge any staff members with concerns around these issues to contact my office.”

Correct response, one staff should publicly take him up on, as the National Tertiary Education Union urged last night should occur at all universities. “Vice chancellors have to face up to the reality that there is real problem. The NTEU calls upon them to invite staff to identify issues without any adverse repercussions. It is shameful that many people are in fear of their jobs if they speak up within the university.”

Smarter than the average VC

Sarah Elmeligi has found you are more likely to run across a grizzly bear near towns and roads in the Canadian Rockies than in backcountry. If you do it helps to have a can of bear spray with you (point at charging bear, spray, hope – as it was once explained to me). Where to find, or more likely, avoid, a bear is part of Ms Elmeligi’s PhD research at – Central Queensland University. “While there aren’t grizzly bears in Australia, there is an interest in understanding interactions and management issues between large carnivores and people she says. What’s the betting CQU VC Scott Bowman decides to do something about this shocking ursine absence on his patch? Beating James Cook U to be the first Queensland university to have campus grizzlies would surely make it into his weekly “VCs Fast Five”.


Absent consumer response

A higher education management veteran asked the question yesterday that Four Corners should have when preparing its programme. “If some international students are getting easy grades where are the legions of Australian and other international students who are pissed off at their credential being undermined?”

“Dodgy certificates are a bit like vaccinations, they require most to do the right thing to retain their value,” the veteran added.

At the core of the Four Corners and ICAC (CMM Friday, Monday and yesterday) cases, is the assumption that supply of places outstrips demand and universities will cut corners to keep customers. However an exporter makes the point that no one is discounting and the government thinks the industry can grow.

Last night a body representing international students, the group hurt worse by this controversy, bought into the debate, acknowledging plagiarism and cheating occurs but arguing that it is not the norm.

“A few bad apples and a small handful of concerned academics should not define the general reputation of international students. There are students who work genuinely hard by exercising due diligence in their studies so as to make the most of a huge financial investment and there are certainly full-time academics who can attest to the quality and success of international students who have gone on to demonstrate capability in the workplace,” Thomson Ch’ng from the Council of International Students Australia said.

Mr Ch’ng also asked an interesting question – where in all this is TEQSA? Surely its brief to uphold the Higher Education Standards Framework accreditation requirement for qualifications and certification applies to soft marking.

Much-loved Lynda

It’s not only Deakin U that provides staff and students with access to training courses from Lynda (CMM yesterday). James Cook U was on to CMM quick-smart yesterday announcing it also does.

MOOC not on the money

The MOOC as paradigm shifter is passed, replaced by the MOOC as brand builder, at best, according to this year’s Babson Survey Group’s study of US on-line education. The survey, by I Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman found that nearly half universities with existing or planned MOOCS see them as marketing and recruitment tools. A majority of academic leaders now “do not think the MOOCs are a sustainable method for offering courses.”