Plus a Nupathon on Norton, RUN picks up the pace on retention and Uni Adelaide sings about Sia

Close inspection

What a surprise! Treasurer Scott Morrison said yesterday that Simon Birmingham is “looking at” Andrew Norton’s proposal to reduce the HELP repayments threshold.

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Research impact experts announced

The specialist working groups for the engagement and impact assessment measures to run with the 2018 Excellence for Research in Australia project will be announced this morning. As previously reported (CMM March 11) one will advise on engagement and impact and the other will address performances and incentives. They will support the high-level Engagement and Impact Steering Committee charged with developing “clear and transparent measures of non-academic impact, and industry and end-user engagement.” (CMM March 10)

The process is being jointly managed by the Australian Research Council and the Department of Education and Training.

The Technical Working Group will advise on the development of indicators that will support a national engagement and impact assessment. Its members are Ms Leanne Harvey, Australian Research Council (co-chair), Ms Virginia Hart, Department of Education and Training (co-chair), Dr Eric Archambault, President, Science-Metrix (Canada), Professor Jonathan Adams, Chief Scientist, The MacMillan Group, London,  Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner, University of Queensland, Professor Andy Pitman, Director, University of New South Wales, Mr Tony Sheil, Griffith University, Dr Sybille Hinze, Deutsches Zentrum für Hochscul und Wissenschaftsforschung (Germany), Dr Diana Hicks, Georgia Tech (USA), Mr Andrew Calder, Bond University, Ms Sue Mikilewicz, University of South Australia, Professor Richard A Jefferson, Chief Executive Officer, Cambia and Dr Marcus Nichol, ARC. 

The Performance and Incentives Working Group will advise on how the model adopted will influence universities in their research focus. Members are: Harvey and Hart (above), Mr Conor King, Innovative Research Universities,Professor Mike Brooks, University of Adelaide, Professor Kevin Hall, University of Newcastle, Professor Robyn Owens, UWA, Professor Arun Sharma, QUT, Dr Bronwyn Evans, Standards Australia, Professor Attila Brungs, UTS, Professor Mark Harvey, University of Southern Queensland, Professor Andrew Reeves, Deakin University,Mr Mark Bazzacco, CSIRO, Mr Luke Meehan, IP Australia, Professor Duncan Ivison, Australian Academy of the Humanities, Professor Margaret Sheil, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Professor David Day, Australian Academy of Science and Professor Glenn Withers, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

Uni Adelaide on-song

The University of Adelaide will name a new institute of contemporary music and media for South Australian singer Sia Furler, according to a story last night in the Adelaide Advertiser.  Presumably Ms Furler is pleased, although it might be a bit hard to tell when she participates in today’s launch event given she does not like to show her face in public. The new centre will teach music and media technology and will be housed in the university’s Elder Conservatorium of Music. It is a much needed win for the  arts at Uni Adelaide. Jazz maestro James Morrison set up his academy of music with the University of South Australia, there were unpopular changes to Elder programmes last year and the university wanted to offload Radio Adelaide over the summer.

Nupathon on Norton

Andrew Norton’s case for a lower HELP repayment threshold generated the usual nupathon yesterday.

Labor’s Kim Carr and Sharon Bird rejected all the ideas circulating about cutting the cost to government of study debt.

“If the threshold is lowered it will be women, lower income earners, people in part time work and recently graduated young people who would be paying more, sooner. The income contingent loans scheme (HECS-HELP), introduced by Labor, is based on the principle that you repay your contribution only if you benefit from your education in the way of higher salaries. It is not a loan scheme as is understood in financial circles, but a social insurance program. Imposing a lower threshold, or introducing a death tax by way of having the Australian Tax Office raid your estate, violates this basic principle”

The National Tertiary Education Union argued “part-time positions, casualisation and the uncertainty of continuous fixed term contracts,” make life tough for many graduates already and a $42 000 base to repay study debt is just too hard.

However the union also offered a solution, that would reduce what students have to borrow and thus what the government lends them. “The best way to improve the financial viability of the HELP scheme is to lower the average level of student debt by lowering university fees.”

Good-o but given staff account for the biggest share of university outlays would not this inevitably lead to lower salaries?

The Greens stuck to their playbook, with education spokesman Robert Simms calling for more government funding. “Rather than lowering the HELP threshold, the government needs to repair the broken for-profit VET sector and redirect taxpayer funds into universities and TAFE with a focus on achieving high quality outcomes for students.

“The government has to stop viewing students as cash cows and recognise that higher education is for the public good,” Senator Simms said.

And the National Union of Students says Norton is not on.

“The core idea behind the HECS/HELP scheme is to allow students to repay their debt when they are financially able to do so, and implementing this proposal is simply unfair.”


Audit Office opens the door

The Australian National Audit Office wants anybody with information about the National Rental Affordability Scheme to  get in touch for a report which is due in Spring. CMM wonders whether universities, notably ANU and the University of Canberra which used the scheme, designed to house low and middle income people, to build student accommodation which internationals could access, will get in touch (CMM November 19).

All in the timing

As part of the university wide restructure UWA has frozen external recruitment while staff cuts under the new model are worked out. According to a Senior Leaders Briefing Paper, “the university leadership is committed to ensuring that we prioritise employment opportunities for our staff.” The freeze is in in place until May 31. Good-o, except that “final determination of how many staff are required in the new service delivery model,” is not scheduled until the end of July. So UWA staff may not know they are out of a job for two months after the university started recruiting externally for positions that a retrenched worker could have applied for.


Team RUN

With Education Minister Simon Birmingham making it plain he wants universities to reduce attrition (CMM January 28) the Regional Universities Network is getting in early. RUN’s members are cooperating to share a bunch of projects designed to keep students in class. In February RUN also won funding for a network-wide retention project from Canberra’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (CMM February 8).

Federation U will compile a  comms programme for universities interacting with students covering texts and message timing. Given Fed U‘s tradition of student-focused recruitment campaigns this will be a great relationship-building resource. The University of New England will “go beyond existing student surveys” to investigate student retention, a challenge given the excellent national survey underpinning the new Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching. And CQU will extend an alert system which assesses student online interaction with the university and “nudges” them towards appropriate action.


More with less

While the TAFE lobby points to the damage done by shonks rorting VET FEE HELP as a reason to restrict funding for training Rod Camm  points to why Labor and Liberal state and federal governments expanded private sector access to public funds in the first place. The Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief suggests South Australia shows what happens when the public sector has a near monopoly.

“Prior to the decision last year to allocate 90% of training places to TAFE, private providers were delivering to 43% of students with 18% of available funds. Reflecting TAFE delivery costs some 2.5 times that of private provider means that new training places have halved in that state. Nationally a similar position would have a significant impact on the numbers of Australians in training.”