Conor calls it

Innovative Research University director Conor King explains all you need to know about the Kemp-Norton review (Twitter yesterday). “Capping is for teeth not university places.”

Kemp and Norton back open access

Another week, another major policy paper from Andrew Norton. For reasons passing understanding the feds released his and David Kemp’s long awaited report on demand driven funding on Sunday morning. Perhaps this accounts for the understated responses, or maybe it is because many commentators who feared the worst were at loss for rhetoric in response to a cogently argued, well written report that largely gave them what everybody wanted .

The big news is that Kemp and Norton less applaud than endorse demand driven funding. As commentator Andrew Dempster put it yesterday, “it’s not so much a grudging acceptance of the student demand-led system but a blistering, evidence-based, endorsement of it.” According to Kemp and Norton, universities responded to DDF as they did to the creation of the international market with “entrepreneurial flair”. Standards have not declined, access has increased and universities innovate in what they offer and whom they offer it to. “The strength of a demand driven system is in adapting to individual and local needs and circumstances, and not in meeting centrally-determined targets,” they claim. This leads to a conclusion that some liked less – extending access to Commonwealth supported places to any and all higher education providers that get a tick from TEQSA.

But it costs a bomb

As for funding it – if government decides to pay less then students should pay more through the HELP scheme. The review also proposes a loan fee, added to student debt. It does not specify an amount but mentions, only as an example you understand, 10 per cent of an individual’s borrowings. Of course the feds would also save some cash if students chose to study at private providers which do not do research and would accordingly would need less public money per head.

Passed on one

The reviewers only came close once to ducking a problem, what to do about public funding for professional masters programs. “Caps on Commonwealth supported places should be removed from postgraduate courses with a combination of clear community benefit and modest financial rewards. Other postgraduate courses should be offered on an entirely full-fee basis.” Stand by for arguments over what “clear community benefit” means. As Conor King put it last night; “more work is required to address the problem of the badly structured mix of funded and fee based places for post graduate qualifications. The IRU does not believe that the report’s recommendation to restrict funded places to a small set of course areas plus an arbitrary set of legacy courses is a viable solution.”

No target

While Kemp and Norton want everybody able to have a go at study they don’t care whether the Labor target of 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds having a bachelors degree or higher by 2025 is reached. “Nobody can sensibly say whether 40 per cent attainment in 2025 will be too low, too high, or about right. We have no solid basis for saying that the young men currently choosing vocational education should be doing higher education instead. Nor do we have a solid basis for saying that higher education attainment for young women should be significantly higher than 40 per cent, to make up for lower attainment among men.”

Debate on demand

The early response to Kemp and Norton was divided – just not on the lines you might expect. Universities Australia endorsed the reviewers’ support of DDF. So did the Regional Universities Network, which liked the idea of extending access via TAFEs, including for example, country colleges in partnership with RUN universities. Even the Group of Eight backed the proposal for “a more diverse higher education sector”, without mentioning the case for deregulated fees. But the possibility of students getting slugged for more did not appeal to the National Tertiary Education Union, suggesting Kemp and Norton have “a bob each way,” “recommending opening up and extending the demand driven which would be paid for by lower government contributions per students and higher student fees.” And while the Australian Technology Network supported extending demand driven access to sub degree and postgraduate programs spokeswomen Vicki Thomson was picky about providers. “Profiting from the taxpayer is not part of the equation for universities. Commonwealth funding is directed at teaching and research and towards world-class support, services and infrastructure for students. The contrast in motivations and outcome focus should be front of mind for government in making its decisions”

This may take some time

A close observer (the closest!) of higher education data management ticked me off for missing “the most important point” in Education Minister Chris “cutter” Pyne’s speech the other day, which explained how he would empower universities by reducing the bureaucratic burden they bear. Mr Pyne mentioned his department and the Australian Research Council are consulting on a single research data collection to end the duplication imposed by the different needs of line officials and the ARC’s Excellence in Research for Australia program.  Suitably chastised, I called the ARC to ask how things are going – and got the distinct impression, the answer is nowhere yet. “The ARC has commenced a process with the Department looking at the objectives of both collections with a view to looking at options moving forward and of course consultations will be held prior to any changes,” a spokeswoman responded.

Runaway Vann

Andy Vann ran a half marathon in just under two hours on the weekend. Does this make him the fastest university chief in the country? I suspect so but would love to hear of any VCs who are good for the long haul. Universities Australia could make a half marathon fun run for limber leaders part of its annual conference.

USQ expands

Last winter University of Southern Queensland Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas announced USQ was in a “strong financial position,” one that she is now making use of. Last month USQ announced a move into the Hunter Valley to collaborate with TAFE. There is talk of a study centre at the Muswellbrook TAFE for external students in USQ’s associate degree in mine engineering. Now USQ is working with the University of Queensland to see how the former could take over the latter’s Ipswich campus next year. It is a fascinating move, signalling UofQ has other objectives and is happy to leave the expanding undergraduate market in the western corridor of the greater Brisbane region to USQ. Just as it seems the University of Newcastle is not fazed by USQ moving into its Hunter hinterland. Makes sense to me, although it will be interesting to see how it goes down with UofQ staff at Ipswich.

Soft count  

January sees the lull before the enrolment storm in vocational and higher education; even so a fall in year-to-year overall numbers is a worry, just not a big one. Certainly new figures from the feds show year on year enrolments marginally lower for both; further (down 1.8 per cent) and higher education (2.1 per cent). However the message is mixed for January commencements. While voc ed was up 10 per cent in January higher education was down by 9 per cent. The February numbers will be the test.

Bit late now

Kemp and Norton make a case for the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, “while subject to criticism for bureaucratic over-reach, (it) is now effectively preventing sub-standard higher education courses in both public and private institutions.” They add any extension of the demand driven system will require monitoring but don’t say whether TEQSA with its fangs filed under the new legislation will have the teeth to do it.

Clear as the River Torrens

The Torrens University registration mystery is solved thanks to two of the very few people on the planet who understand higher education registration and a reply from Torrens. On Friday I wondered why Adelaide based private higher education provider Torrens  was not mentioned in legislation despite being registered by TEQSA – an institution needs both for its students to access student loans. Apparently Torrens has enough of its management in Australia to qualify for FEE-HELP under the rules for locals – meeting specific requirements and not being knocked back by parliament. The Minister’s delegate approved Torrens last November. This explains why Torrens is not listed in the Higher Education Support Act as an Australian public, private, or overseas, private higher education provider. Torrens is applying for listing as a Table B provider (local private provider). It will be so much simpler if Kemp and Norton get their way.

Too good  

Thomson Reuters has analysed publications and citations of G20 countries in the Web of Science and it is bad news indeed for the government because the Australian research community had a boomer of a decade, increasing its share of world publication from 2.9 per cent to 3.6 per cent between 2003 and 2012. Citation impact increased from 13 per cent above world average to 28 per cent. The share of highly cited papers rose from 1.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent. “While these research strengths are related to the nation’s unique geography, geology, flora and fauna, Australian scientists seem to have made the most of their national ‘laboratory’ and its resources,” TR reckons. And this is bad news? It is for the feds because anything that even looks like a budget cut to research spending in the budget will be loudly denounced as undermining this achievement. The other (genuinely) bad news in the report is just how little innovation in Australia is Australian, just under 80 per cent of 2012 patent applications originated overseas. But not to worry the number two organisation applying for patents (76) was a local – Aristocrat Technologies. Ring no bells? That is probably because you don’t play the pokies.