plus equity advocates slam deregulation as discriminatory

super-fast NCRIS research

and VET crime-stoppers

Who’re you gonna call?

The University of Melbourne homepage features bright young things in UniMelb branded clobber and a copy line “shop the new range of spirit wear available exclusively online.” “Spirit wear!” a learned reader harrumphs, “sounds like it either belongs in Ghostbusters, or perhaps a sort of smoking jacket to wear whilst drinking whisky.”

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Big data at speed

The $7m in new NCRIS funding for the National Computing Infrastructure (CMM yesterday) is not the end of the endowment, with its partners kicking in the same sum. This will increase NCI’s computing power by 30 per cent and add 10 per cent to storage. The investment is also underpinned by a connection between computing and storage at 50-120 gigabytes a second. With 50 gigs a DVD can be written in one tenth of a second. One partner, the Garvan Institute will use the NCI to store “large-scale genomic datasets.” Yesterday it announced the first whole-genome sequencing function in Australia, which “could triple the diagnosis rates for Australians living with rare and genetic conditions.”

No-frills fun

The ANU is celebrating its 70th birthday on Monday, in Llewellyn Hall, “where distinguished professors and alumni will reflect on the university’s first seven decades.” VC Brian Schmidt will then talk about the future and after that there will be a sausage sizzle and cake for 2000 people.

A bacchanal to rival those that shocked Professor Schmidt when he was an undergraduate at Arizona State this is not (CMM February 12). But it is exactly suited to these straitened times, scholarly in content, modest in cost and democratic in approach. Smart thinking party planners.


Tuesday July 26

Equity essentials

Gabrielle O’Brien for Equity Practitioners in Higher Education has backed demand demand driven funding in the group’s response to Minister Birmingham’s policy paper, calling it a “necessary but insufficient precondition for increasing participation by students from under-represented groups.”

And the group joins the squadron slamming flagship courses, saying participation in them would penalise people from low SES circumstance who are debt averse and “lack the cultural capital to secure employment at the same rates as medium and high SES people.”

It also argue against the assumption “that low ATARs mean poor quality students” and backs Universities Australia’s proposal for entry processes that are transparent and student-centred.

Low cal advice

A UoQ research project has led to a state government programme that provides weight loss and fitness support. It includes “tailored text messaging” to encourage participants. CMM suspects suggestions along the lines of ‘go for a run now dammit’ and ‘you only think you are hungry’ aren’t among them.

Faint light

Australia’s star does not shine all that bright in the new Nature ranking of rising stars. With UNSW (52), University of Queensland (58) and Curtin (94) the only locals to make the top 100. This contrasts with China with 4o institutions. The list is based on increases in articles published in Nature Group products.  On the Asia-Pacific list, essentially Aus and New Zealand, the top ten of 25 is UNSW, UofQ, Curtin, University of South Australia, ANU, Flinders, RMIT, University of Otago, Deakin U, University of Sydney. While this is nice for the leaders it will spon be forgotten when the big one, the Academic Ranking of World Universities is released next month.

Complementary comments

The pharmacy review chaired by Productivity Commissioner Stephen King (ex Monash) reports it is told; “many complementary products do not have evidence-based health benefits and as such, the sale of these products in a pharmacy setting may misinform consumers of their effectiveness and undermine the professional integrity of community pharmacists.” This is a challenge to universities in partnership with complementary medicine providers. Like Griffith U, which in 2014, offered a “special online course” in cooperation with the Blackmores Institute, so that “pharmacists and other healthcare professionals will have the opportunity to boost their knowledge of complementary medicines.” The on-line course was devised and presented by Griffith staff with follow-up in-person seminars for completers “supported by” Blackmores.


Optimistic investment

Investment in VET can cut crime. According to the University of Melbourne’s Cain Polidano every additional dollar spent on VET saves 18c in lost productivity, health and rehabilitation outlays. As Victor Hugo put it, open a school, close a prison.

However not everybody is convinced that economic benefits are as easily measured. As Tabatha Griffin from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research points out, “it is likely that VET does result in non-market benefits for communities and the country, but the issues encountered in measuring, quantifying and sometimes even defining these less tangible outcomes means there is little direct evidence to support this. It is therefore very difficult to incorporate non-market benefits into any all-encompassing cost—benefit analysis.” But CMM’s “oh please” correspondent reports that Maxine Sharkey from the NSW Teachers Federation seized on Dr Polidano’s research (above) to argue that TAFE fee hikes “has made vocational education unaffordable for many students” and “without gaining skills that could help them into employment these men and women risk being drawn into crime.” Or university, where nobody is excluded due to upfront costs.

Push into Perth

CQU continues its plan for world domination with expansion plans in Western Australia. The university already serves 500 students in the state with a “supported distance education” presence in Geraldton and Karratha, plus Broome and Busselton to come. And now the university has taken seven floors in a CBD tower to offer prep programmes, plus business and hospitality courses.


Outcome not assured

Investing in education and training ranks just behind motherhood as a universally accepted rolled-gold good thing – except that acceptance isn’t the same as evidence, as the learned Tabatha Griffin reports in new research for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research (above). For society as a whole she says the evidence indicates vocational education and training delivers an economic benefit, “mostly attributed to VET generating an increase in employability rather than an increase in productivity.” She adds that international evidence suggests it also generates “improved social equity.”

For business, the biggest benefits appear to be industry specific, notably in manufacturing, “where training is often highly specific.” As for individuals Ms Griffin suggests the evidence is in that advanced diplomas and diplomas deliver for graduates and that certificates III and IV provide “a return on investment.” The case for part-time study is also strong, “due to lower opportunity costs.” While completing certificates II and III does not deliver in dollars, “they can lead to other, non-financial, benefits, such as acting as a stepping stone to further study or for personal development reasons.”

This is an important paper, the result of work, which many will follow. Not every graduate will enjoy the assumed benefits of university study, implicit in the promise of demand driven funding and people will want to know whether VET, or no formal study at all, are better ideas.