Morning Dr Casius

“Luckily, every university has a good supply of lean and hungry people willing to put their bodies on the line for science. We call them “students”.(Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, launches Innovation Week.) Except for the even leaner and hungrier ones called casual academics.

There’s more in the Mail

As the government moves to take over VET student assurance schemes next year Mark Warburton explains where we are and how we got here in today’s feature.

Top banana at QUT

James Dale of QUT has grown Cavendish bananas variously immune or resistant to Panama Disease in a trial.

This is more important than smoothies – bananas are a staple in the Congo, Rawanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Panama Disease can stay in soils for decades. What is worse chemicals can’t control it.

Professor Dale has researched an answer to Panama Disease for a decade or so, with funding at the start of the decade from the Gates Foundation. Bill and Melinda Gates always recognised the importance of his work and went to Cairns to visit his research project in 2011.

Student starts slow: full 2016 university data

The great expansion in undergraduate education is over with no growth in commencing domestic students in 2016 (569 064) over 2015 (595 220). Overall there were 1.457m students enrolled in higher education last year, up 3.3 per cent on 2015. Growth in internationals (7.7 per cent, to 391 136.) far exceeded locals (1.8 per cent to 1 066 703) who still make up a big 73.2 per cent majority of all students.

The Department of Education and Training released the long-awaited 2106 full-year figures yesterday.

Postgraduates drive the overall growth in numbers, up 3.9 per cent to 401 000, while there were just over 1m undergraduates, up 2.9 per cent.

Public universities enrolled 90 per cent of students but while their enrolments expanded by 2.7 per cent private providers grew by 10.2 per cent.

Indigenous student enrolments were up 10.4 per cent in 2016, but they are still significantly under-represented in higher education, accounting for 1.2 per cent of enrolments, (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples accounted for 2.8 per cent of the population in the 2016 census). And there was no growth in low SES commencements, up 0.1 per cent. Students from the bottom quartile of the community now account for 18 per cent of university enrolments.

DET reports growth in work-focused courses, with IT up 19 per cent and architecture and building up 15 per cent although engineers who point to the present reliance of migrants to meet demand will notice enrolments in their area only grew by 3.9 per cent. The number of commencing students in education dropped by 2.6 per cent. As to why enrolments in food, hospitality and personal services grew by 474 per cent, DET reports but does not explain.

State of the uni future

LaTrobe U is 50 and one of the celebrations is a forum on universities of the future featuring the Batman Three, the VCs of the city’s oldest unis, UniMelb (Glyn Davis), Monash U (Margaret Gardner) and LaTrobe (John Dewar). With such talent it is unsurprisingly sold-out but it will be live-streamed, Wednesday November 22 at 6.30pm

Growth under control and attrition unchanged says Universities Australia

Universities Australia focused on an article of faith among most of its members in responding to the new student stats, that demand driven funding was, is, and will be a good thing for them and for the country.

However universities responded with silence to yesterday’s student attrition statistics, which made less sense for the University of Melbourne with the lowest number (3.92 per cent) than for Torrens U with the highest (30 per cent). But as ever Universities Australia was out yesterday, working with what it had and making a sound policy case for the cause by connecting the attrition figures with the 2016 full year enrolment stats.

This is sound strategy, tackling two of the biggest arguments against Canberra funding a place for every domestic student a university will accept, that it encourages unsuitable people into study and that it will be an ever-expanding budget burden.

“The share of students dropping out of university is around the same as it was a decade ago – despite a dramatic expansion of access to a larger and more diverse group of Australians than ever before.
And university enrolments are also stable – in fact they are now slightly lower than the rate of population growth – torpedoing claims that the current system is growing unsustainably,” UA deputy chief executive Catriona Jackson said yesterday.

Ms Jackson also defended the system’s performance on attrition; “when people call for a crackdown on attrition, surely they don’t want to see mums juggling study with a job, or the worker who wants to study online, being turned away because they are from groups with traditionally higher attrition rates?,” which rather ignores Minister Birmingham’s wish to see universities with high attrition rates reduce them.

Westward ho

Simon Biggs will move from the University of Queensland to become senior DVC at the University of Western Australia. Professor Biggs is now UoQ’s dean of engineering, architecture and IT. He starts at UWA in March.

No deal at Murdoch U as negotiations break down (again)

Enterprise bargaining at Murdoch University has broken down with the National Tertiary Education Union calling on management to put its proposal to staff without union support. The union says with management refusing to budge on nine issues and no further meetings scheduled the university should either go to a vote by month’s end or undertake to hold off until February, “so that all Murdoch staff can participate.”

“The clear statements from the management negotiators that they will not move their positions indicate that there will be no resolution this side of Christmas,” the union says.

Vice Chancellor Eeva Leinonen’s expressed hope for a deal before the summer holidays now seems forlorn. Unless of course management takes up the union’s challenge and wins.

A creek runs though it

As ANU rebuilds to become a campus in rather than on its landscape DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington is recording the process in a series of essays that lay the foundations for a chapter in a future history of the campus. This month she  writes about the transformation of a “desulatory dribble” of a campus creek into a home for wildlife instead of a shopping trolley and abandoned bikes. It is about taking the skills of planners and engineers and recreating an environment that is home to platypus and swans now and honours the memory of the Indigenous Australians who lived by and with the creek in the past.

Federal Government to cover VET students

The government has launched “a pre-emptive strike” to ensure “tuition assurance” for VET students next year announcing the Department of Education and Training is set to manage services for students and training providers using VET student loans, FEE HELP and students with loans grandfathered from the former VET FEE HELP system. The two current scheme managers, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training and TAFE Directors Australia will continue responsible for any students caught if providers close courses for the rest of the year.

“We’re making a pre-emptive strike to ensure all students in 2018 remain protected and can get high quality training with confidence,” Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said yesterday.

Yesterday ACPET’s Rod Camm said, “We support the change but want to ensure there are no holes or gaps in the scheme that will create challenges later. “

Student funding expert Mark Warburton’s analysis is this morning’s feature