SKA power

“Excitement is in the air.” The Square Kilometre Array team reports testing antennas in remote WA, yesterday. If the excitement emanates from distant stars they should know.

Not no-speaks

The great and the good (generally the same people in higher education) gather at the Universities Australia conference next week to hear from a learned legion of speakers. But while Opposition education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek is on the printed programme education minister Simon Birmingham isn’t.

But no, this is not because government and unis are at no-speaks. UA advises Senator Birmingham is indeed appearing, at 3.30pm next Wednesday, in a session chaired by UA president Margaret Gardner.

Lots of offers

The NSW AND ACT Universities Admission Centre reports 25 000 non year-12 applications for this academic year, continuing a decline from the 2013-14 peak of just under 40 000. In contrast the number of individuals applying to universities on the basis of NSW 12 Year results was down by a bare 1000 from the 2015-16 peak of 45 000.  While demand is steady NSW universities significantly increased their Y12 offers, from 52 000 to 65 000.

Plibersek announces national review of post-school education

Labor will convene a “once in a generationinquiry into post-secondary education within 100 days of it winning the next election, Tanya Plibersek will announce in Melbourne this morning.

This ensures Ms Plibersek receives a positive response when she addresses Universities Australia on Wednesday. UA chair Margaret Gardner has called for a national debate on the future of post school education (CMM January 22).

But perhaps not a rapturous one, because Ms Plibersek will today emphasise the importance of higher education-TAFE partnerships and the need to “rebuild” the public vet system.

TAFE and vocational education is in crisis. The number of students attending TAFE has collapsed due to funding cuts and unhealthy competition from private providers accessing government subsidies. The system is both fragmented and rigid. Partial reviews have not fixed underlying problems. So, we must act now. Labor will put public TAFE at the centre of Australia’s vocational education system. The review will look at the special role TAFE has, including helping Australian business become more competitive at home, and internationally.”  This is great news for Labor allies in the public-sector training sector, and no news, at best, for the for-profits.

Ms Plibersek is expected to appoint experts from VET, universities, industry and unions to establish terms of reference for the review, which will look at national needs rather than resources for state based systems. However, while a single post-secondary system is not expected to be on the agenda, Ms Plibersek will call on TAFE and HE to cooperate.

TAFE specialises in skills, unis are our research powerhouses and we see many examples of excellence from both.  But there is much more that can be done to capitalise on those strengths, and endless opportunities to reach new heights by having TAFE and unis working together more often.”

Overall this is smart politics. By focusing on public training Ms Plibersek distances herself from the VET FEE HEP catastrophe, which began on Labor’s watch. And the more she talks up training the less she has to say about higher education funding. While Ms Plibersek will criticise the government for abolishing demand driven funding today she will not mention completely restoring, saying:

“the number of Australians going to university has increased because Labor uncapped uni places.  But the cuts and chaos inflicted on unis by the Liberals means participation is uneven.  Disadvantaged students remain under-represented, particularly Indigenous students, and students from regional areas.  The fact Malcolm Turnbull has effectively abandoned the demand driven system shows he doesn’t care about fixing this.”

If “uneven participation” is all that interests Labor that might be it for the demand driven system. Unless, of course, Ms Plibersek is holding an announcement on doing more for UA next week.


The shark has pretty teeth, dear

People who know all about that are the 40 per cent of WA fishers surveyed by UWA who have had a shark bite off a hooked fish. Researchers suggest that sharks, not being dills, associate boats with a free lunch.

Unis need brands staff understand

QUT marketers make a strong case in a new paper for organisations ensuring customer-contact staff understand what brands stands for.

“When employees perceive brand signals to be clear, credible, and consistent, they are more likely to be aware and more confident of the brand promise and their specific roles and responsibilities required to fulfil the brand promise with customers,” Emma Karanges, Kim Johnston, Ian Lings and Amanda Beatson, write in the Journal of Brand Management.

While Ms Karanges and colleagues do not deal with education institutions, their thinking strikes CMM as eminently applicable to universities, which have multiple relations with students as customers (enrolments, libraries, services and so on).  And the need for a brand that staff understand surely extends to academics. No, it does not mean students are customers in the classroom, but brand values surely cover teaching and learning strategies and university attitudes to attrition and student outcomes.

If so, then universities, just like other organisations with clients and customers, need to have brand values that staff can endorse and act on. As the QUT team writes; without brand understanding, “the ability and willingness of employees to enact brand citizenship behaviour that aligns with organisational values, and the brand promise, is doubtful.”

Which is a problem for Australian universities that do not have a brand promise that goes beyond the usual anodyne statements about life changing opportunities for students. These are what every university promises and what individual staff members can’t deliver on their own.

Putting the band back together

Gary Banks, will create the NSW Productivity Commission, announced yesterday. Professor Banks stepped down as dean of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government in January ’17. He chaired the commonwealth’s Productivity Commission from 1998 to 2013.

At USC Greg Hill goes the full Oliver

The University of the Sunshine Coast warns of catastrophes to come unless the government cuts its cap on student numbers and thaws its funding freeze to give USC more money. Old news, you say? You read all about the government stumping up more cash for USC’s Petrie campus last week, in CMM no less, you add.

You did indeed, but USC is going the full Oliver and asking for more. Quite a bit more. VC Greg Hill has told Scott Sawyer in the Sunshine Coast Daily that he needs money lost to cuts, to fund the takeover of QUT Caboolture, to teach at the Hervey Bay campus acquired from USQ, for the Fraser Coast tertiary education programme. There is also the matter of medicine places at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, where USC plans to teach pre-med degrees.

To extend Keating’s Law of COAG; “never stand between vice chancellors and a bucket of money, they will just bring another one for you to fill as well.”