Universities Australia head Barney Glover calls for “no shift from demand driven funding” but warns universities need new resources

plus uni admission centres off the competition hook, for now

Innovation Minister Hunt encourages less industry impact and more social service in funding applications

and cash boost to NDIS comes at expense of research infrastructure


Lentils for lunch

Amanda Lawson, dean of law, humanities and arts at the University of Wollongong, is proposing “a plant-based approach to our catering.” Professor Lawson says cutting animal products from official menus is good for staff health, animal welfare and will reduce the faculty’s carbon hoofprint. Everybody “is still welcome to manage their own food consumption at work in any way they wish,” she adds.

 MOOCs of the morning

The University of Adelaide is upping its engagement with the Harvard/MIT founded edX, committing to credit-eligible micromasters. The first, offered this year, is “likely” to be in data science. The university says it is “possible” that the course will earn credit for a full masters from 2018. UniAdelaide joins ANU, the University of Queensland and Curtin U in offering micromasters in Australia (CMM September 21 2016). UoQ’s micromasters, Leaders in Global Development goes live this month.

Softer sciences

Science and Innovation Minister Greg Hunt seems keen to soften the government’s industry-focused research emphasis. A couple of days before Christmas he invited submissions “on possible themes and priorities” for the next round of Cooperative Research Centres and CRC-Projects. Mr Hunt does not prescribe any particular areas, suggesting people might take a lead from the government’s “existing priorities and themes,” unless, of course they want to “highlight gaps in existing research or emerging research challenges.” However the minister does mention “priority themes” he would like people to rank, including, “clinical health care, including remote and indigenous health; mental health; disaster response and preparedness; climate research; cybersecurity; and transport.”

This is a major change from the existing applied impact emphasis, with commentators suggesting Mr Hunt wants to see the funding pendulum swing some way from industry applications to social services.

But who will assess ideas? CMM asked the minister’s office and if a staffer ever tells me I will tell you.

Scientia stars

UNSW conferred Christmas greetings on 16 staffers who have become scientia professors, the university’s designation for elite researchers. They are: Bernard Balleine, (psychology), Michael Barton, (medicine), Lyn Craig, (social policy), Louisa Degenhardt, (drug and alcohol research), Louise Edwards, (humanities and languages), Jacob Goeree, (economics), Gary Housley, (medical sciences), Stephen Lord, (neuroscience), Andrew Martin, (education), Rosemary Rayfuse (law), John Roberts, (marketing), Derrick Silove, (psychiatry), Martina Stenzel, (chemistry), Brian Uy, (engineering), Toby Walsh, (computer Science and engineering), Jingling Xue, (computer science and engineering).

Another exec change at Swinburne U

Swinburne U has a new CIO; Peter Mahler’s appointment was announced just before Christmas for a Jan 1 start. Mr Mahler replaced Lachlan Cameron, who worked for Swinburne for five years, the last two as CIO. With five executive staff leaving the university over the last four months it is certainly a very new year for managing Swinburne.

John Wilson is also announced as Swinburne PVC for academic strategy implementation, starting in April. He will move up from executive dean of the faculty of science, engineering and technology. Sarah Maddison will act as ED during the recruitment process for a replacement at FEST.

Bad training numbers, as usual

It was business as usual over the summer for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research, which released the standard bad training numbers. Apprentice and trainee numbers were down 2.1 per cent in the June quarter continuing a trend that began when the NCVER released figures in Latin. In the year ending June starts dropped 8.4 per cent. On preliminary numbers for the September quarter the NCVER estimates trades commencements have now declined for six consecutive quarters.

Infrastructure out NDIS in

While people were disappointed when the feds used MYEFO to close the Education Investment Fund in the week before Christmas nobody much was surprised. The Clark Infrastructure Review and the Group of Eight had proposed using the $3.7bn still parked in the EIF to create a new research infrastructure fund (CMM December 16) but the feds said nothing doing and moved the money to pay down debt and fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Tricky to criticise is the NDIS so Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson kept on the highest of high ground, lamenting the loss for what the EIF could have accomplished. “Universities understand the intense pressures on the federal Budget and on Australia’s AAA credit rating, but investments in productive infrastructure help to generate future sources of revenue for the country,” she said. What does remain in the forward estimates are the zombie cuts from the 2014 budget.

However  last week universities emerging from summer somnolence are said to have received legal advice the government cannot reallocate the remains of the EIF by announcement, due to terms in its founding legislation and there was talk of a possible challenge. However on Friday Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was having none of it, saying that while legislation was required to transfer the funds, “the government remains committed to putting the NDIS on a sustainable funding foundation.” On the worthy cause scale the NDIS out-rates research.

Present frying pan to future fire

The WA and SA tertiary admission centres are off the hook, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission abandoning an inquiry. Last year ANU complained that the two had refused to supply tertiary admission services to ANU … ” for the purpose of preventing or restricting ANU from attracting students based in WA and SA respectively, and competing with the local tertiary institutions in those states.” Not that the two centres are found innocent of the complaint, just that the ACCC decided that the Higher Education Standards Panel has solutions of its own, like creating a national uni entry agency if the state bodies do not lift their game.

Pleasure is all his

Steve Brammer has announced his arrival at Macquarie University telling staff that, having travelled 10 576 miles and arriving in a heatwave, he was delighted to be there. The new executive dean of business and economics adds that after five days he is impressed by the faculty’s “calibre, commitment and collegiality,” adding it was a privilege to be working with everybody – including all the impressive people he is yet to meet.

Angela joins Edith

Angela Hill is moving from James Cook U, where she is dean of learning and teaching, to Edith Cowan U. In April Professor Hill will become PVC Education there, with responsibility for the Centre for Learning and Teaching, library services, technology enhanced learning and academic governance.

The year ahead: Universities Australia president Barney Glover sets the agenda

Peak body Universities Australia begins the year with modelling underway on possible government changes to higher education student loans. But UA president Barney Glover stresses that this is “to be better informed” and that any proposed changes to loans “must not put integrity, access and equity at risk.”

That UA is modelling possible policy changes reflects its sense of uncertainty over what government and Opposition may propose this year. “Some people might think the last few years have seen policy certainty because of the impossibility of legislating but this means that universities cannot plan for the long-term. We understand the complexities of the Senate but need clear policies,” Professor Glover says.

Among a range of stand-out issues, he points to the cuts to university funding in the 2014 budget, which are still government policy. And he adds that the government’s dropping the Education Investment Fund in December’s MYEFO statement adds to the case for universities issuing bonds and securitising property assets to fund development, as recommended in the Denise Bradley, Philip Clark infrastructure review. “Universities need new and sophisticated financing and the government must respond.” While shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek has engaged with universities since picking up the portfolio in July, “we are looking forward to Labor policies becoming clearer,” he also says.

Unlike politics, UA’s own agenda for the year is clear. Professor Glover says it will re-set the sector’s indigenous strategy at its March conference. Despite growth in Indigenous student numbers they are still below Indigenous Australians per centage of the overall population.

He also points to further announcements in UA’s system-wide Respect. Now. Always campaign against sexual violence on campus.

And he says that with international education now a $20bn industry, in an uncertain and competitive market UA is acutely conscious of the need for the streamlined visa programme to work.

In the crucial policy area of demand driven funding Professor Glover is confident of a consensus and UA backs what he expects will be the Higher Education Standards Panel’s next project on undergraduate progress, completion and attrition.  But he is adamant that improving progression is no reflection on the growth in numbers under student-centred funding. “There is no shift away from DDF,” he says.