Grim realism

Humanities and social science scholars have gone blue in the face emphasising the value and utility of our disciplines, good employment/income of our graduates, etc. Nobody’s listening. We keep getting shafted, whether by policy or idiotic ‘studying Arts = burger flipper’ jokes.’ ” Historian André Brett (Uni Wollongong) via Twitter, Friday.

University education: about jobs now, not in the future

In Features this morning Ian Marshman and Frank Larkins analyse the Tehan package;

“Vocational education has triumphed. Undergraduate education is now more narrowly about training for a job, no longer laying the foundations for careers of the future. This redefinition will be a particular challenge for universities with missions and values centred on providing opportunities for students to achieve their full potential and wider citizenship capabilities.” Their analysis is here.

The basis for the new CSP discipline funding rates was hiding in plain sight

Policy maven Frank Larkins suggests they are based on the Deloitte Access Economics report for the feds, Transparency in Higher Education Expenditure. With that other master-maven Ian Marshman, he analysed the report for CMM. It’s reprinted in Features today.

There’s more in the Mail

Nina Fotinatos on five team functions for learning and teaching success. It’s Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s new selection in her series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW)  on the two golden rules for selection committees in research (and elsewhere).

Tim Winkler on the way the ATAR and tertiary admissions centres work, or don’t, for school leavers.

The Tehan package: but wait, there’s more!

Dan Tehan did way more than horrify the HASS community with an eye-watering increase in what students will pay for a humanities degree on Friday.  In other announcements, there is new money for Indigenous and regional education, plus $900m for a HE-industry linkage programme

 In a speech to the National Press Club, Mr Tehan announced;

* $500m per annum for university programmes helping Indigenous, regional and low SES students, “to get into university and graduate.”

* “a further” $900m for a National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund, “to support universities to produce job-ready graduates for their local industries and communities.” Funding will be linked to performance metrics,

* a “guaranteed” bachelor degree place for Indigenous students from regional and remote areas, “at any public university. (Funding for places is additional to Commonwealth Grants Scheme payments.)

* a $48m research fund for regional universities to partner with industry on research

* a regional education commissioner, as recommended in the Napthine Strategy.

* an unspecified number of new Regional University Centres, adding to the existing 25.

The Tehan plan: what’s deep in the weeds

Where much of the money is coming from:  Students. When in-place the government’s share of Commonwealth Supported Places will be down 8 per cent to 52 per cent.

Take your (and another uni’s) places: The package provides for unis to allocate CSPs to whatever discipline they like and to trade them with other universities, (ex medicine and enabling courses). It looks like an extension of a swap scheme for coursework masters announced in November (CMM November 4 2019). But no, it’s not a market – trades must be cost neutral).

What’s happening to HEPPP:  The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme is funded until 2023, until then it will operate under the new Indigenous, Regional and Low SES Attainment Fund.

Next skills and quals: Last year’s review of the Australian Qualifications Framework will be, um reviewed, (although the feds avoid calling it that), to determine if the “value proposition outlined in the AQF Review can be delivered.” There will also be, “technical work required for implementation and discussion with states and territories.”

The new work also includes, “smoothing pathways” and “developing guidelines to support the recognition of micro-credentials.”

And it looks like the “undergraduate certificate,” created for the Federal Government’s COVID-19 short courses is staying. “Its inclusion in the AQF is consistent with the review’s recommendation to update the AQF to ensure recognition of short form credentials in other AQF qualifications.”

University lobbies working with what they’ve got now

Most found something to be positive about in the new best of all possible worlds

The Regional Universities Network was pleased, very pleased, with just about everything in Mr Tehan’s address that related to its members. “Addressing educational equity across the nation is in Australia’s interest as a whole. We are delighted by the particular focus in the package to assist more students from RRR Australia to attend and succeed at university,” chair Helen Bartlett (VC, Federation U) said.

The Australian Technology Network welcomed more places and indexing funding for them.  According to chair Attila Brungs (VC, UTS), “our recovery from economic downturn will mean more workers seeking skills, retraining or up-skilling opportunities.”

Universities Australia liked what it liked in the package – more places, improving Indigenous participation and industry research linkages. Overall; “we will need to examine it closely in coming days in order to understand the impact on our students including those in the humanities.”

The Group of Eight sees an opportunity

It acknowledged HE, in common with other “sectors” needs a “fresh approach” to address recession. It welcomed more UGs but politely pointed out students providing more of the sector’s funding was not terrific. And while the Eight “disagree strongly” with students in law, economic, business and “particularly the humanities” paying for 90 per cent of their degrees, “we recognise that out of COVID has come the need to embrace a level of pragmatism for the long-term national good. This is one such moment in time.”

Perhaps this is because the Go8 see another area of the national good where the government and universities can work together.

“The Go8 begins its discussions with the minister on securing the nation’s research future next week, and we are confident this will be a much more measured and understanding series of discussions than those of previous years,” chief executive Vicki Thomson says.

The IRU drills into the data

The Innovative Research Universities group supported more places, It also welcomes growth for regions and equity programme.

But as is its wont, it got straight into analysing outcomes, supported by an analysis of costs per course for government and students, based on 2018 data.

The big risk of these reforms is that the conflict between student incentives and university incentives could lead to a mismatch. The combined revenue from government and student for some courses the government wants to expand, such as engineering and maths, will fall. The revenue for others targeted for big increases in student charges will rise – making these more attractive to universities. It is a rare person who switches from accounting to social work for the money.”

““The problem is the unintended consequences from the needed revamp of the funding and charging rates for different courses. There is a risk that it will become uneconomical for universities to provide some reduced-price courses that are currently run on small margins and we may have more students applying for courses that are being cut back,” IRU’s Conor King says.

La Trobe U’s great timing

Job-ready skills are behavioural skills that enable students to transition effectively into the world of work, and rapidly add value to their organisations. Prepare for life after graduation … .”

La Trobe U agency spruiks its Work Ready Virtual Experience Programme, via Twitter on Friday.

The Senate isn’t assured

There are petitions and appeals for the Senate to knock back the course funding changes – they have certainly worked in the past 

The coalition has 36 of the 39 Senate votes it needs to pass legislation with five possibles on the cross-bench, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (two) and the SA based Centre Alliance, (two).

On education the Centre Alliance senators are said to listen to their House of Representatives colleague, Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo) who wants graduates to be employable – and employed. As she put it in the Reps; “we must look at how we prepare the next generation for the world of work to ensure young people successfully transition to sustainable employment. Right now we have university educated young people stacking shelves at supermarkets because there are few graduate jobs, (Hansard, September 13 2017).

But then again, on Saturday Ms Sharkie tweeted, “I will be forever grateful to Flinders for my arts degree,  It took me ten years to complete while working and raising three children. I would not have had my career or the privilege of sitting in the Houses of Representative without it.

If Senator Hanson goes with the government and Centre Alliance doesn’t it will up to Senator Lambie.

Big wins for Jane den Hollander and Margaret Gardner

Unionists at the University of Western Australia have decisively backed a management proposal for COVID-19 savings, including postponing an enterprise agreement pay-rise and staff purchasing additional leave (CMM June 9)

The deal was negotiated by the university with the National Tertiary Education Union state and campus leadership and is endorsed by 78 per cent of its members in a ballot. The proposal will now go to all UWA staff in a vote to vary the university’s enterprise agreement and is expected to pass – university electorates generally trust the judgement of union member on issues of pay and conditions.

This is a win for Vice Chancellor Jane den Hollander who personally vouched for the need for savings, “I give you my word that I am confident that the financial situation is extremely precarious and cannot go on unchecked,” she told the campus community. Professor den Hollander is also one of four VCs who negotiated a draft national accord with the federal NTEU on temporary cuts in wages and conditions in return for job-protections.

Monash VC supported by thumping majority of union members

With Professor den Hollander, Monash VC Margaret Gardner was another of the four VCs who negotiated a national plan for savings with the federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union. Her version of the plan was released early this month with approval by union members a pre-condition for an all-staff vote, (CMM June 11).

This was in some doubt, with the campus NTEU leadership not getting involved.  There is “no formal branch position on the Monash jobs protection proposal. We support the right of all branch members to decide,” branch president Ben Eltham told CMM (CMM June 12).

But doubt is dispelled, with 83 per cent of NTEU members voting backing the deal Friday.

It now goes to an all-staff vote today week.

Professor Gardner says savings including deferring an enterprise agreement pay rise, and staff purchasing five-days leave will save 190 jobs.

Claire Field on, “the most significant reforms since Dawkins’

“And all without the government spending a single extra cent” 



Public debate on the government’s university funding reforms has focussed mostly on the humanities and the aim of improving students’ job prospects.

Hence the minister’s advice to “add a language” or IT subjects to lessen the humanities’ fee increase and improve employment outcomes. This will sound sensible to many and deflects attention from the fact the reforms are less about graduate outcomes than they purport to be. After all, “more students doing STEM” is another stated reform aspiration yet science graduates have worse employment outcomes than humanities, business or law graduates (all facing higher fees), and science funding drops $5,000 per student in the new model.

The rural funding initiatives and lower student fees for other degrees will be well received.

And so, while debate focuses on the humanities vs STEM – we miss the bigger picture. If enacted, these reforms will be the most significant since Dawkins.

39,000 extra places will be funded through a CPI increase. That means students take on more debt and/or universities get more efficient.

The removal of restrictions on how funding is used across sub-Bachelor, undergraduate and postgraduate courses will see the Group of Eight enrol more postgraduates, while other universities will welcome more sub-Bachelor students.

Funding flexibility, the rapid uptake of micro-credentials, the ability to trade student places, and the introduction of new university colleges which the minister explicitly describes as teaching-only institutions (and which I therefore anticipate will in time receive government funding) will transform the sector. And all without the government spending a single extra cent.

On top of that, universities have already agreed to a suite of performance measures. Now they are likely to agree to more – this time focussed on their engagement with business. Collectively these KPIs will result in a brand new university ranking system focussed on domestic students.

Claire is a consultant to the sector and her first degree was a Bachelor of Arts

The makings of a market-place in micro-credentials

The government will create an information base on short-course outcomes, duration, delivery and value as pre-reqs

The $4.3m resource is based on the creation of 344 short-courses designed for people to re-train during the COVID-19 crisis. “

Micro-credentials address the most common barriers cited by adult workers who are not intending to undertake further formal training or study: time and cost,” Education Minister Dan Tehan says.

“The micro-credential marketplace will be a platform for job-seekers to see what skills they can gain by further study to help them get a new job or to get ahead in their current job.”