Thus proving he wasn’t

“Thought to be extinct 80 years ago, Sydney University honours student Maxim Adams has rediscovered the Lord Howe Island wood-feeding cockroach.”  Uni Sydney, via Twitter yesterday.

What’s to be done for the lecture

Ryu Takechi (Curtin U neuroscientist) tweets a photo of an empty classroom and comments, “five minutes past the start tine and no one showed up … it is just sad how this country’s tertiary education is not viable in its current form.”

Dr Takechi is not alone (CMM May 18) here and probably in the USA, from where (thanks to a learned reader), Jenay Robert (Educause) reports surveys of undergraduates on how they want to learn, taken just prior to the pandemic, in March 2020, and this year. “Completely face to face” was 35 per cent then, now it is 29 per cent. “Completely on-line” was 5 per cent then and is 20 per cent now.

Who knows what is to be done, but Kelly Matthews (Uni Queensland) has an idea on how to start, with a national conversation – she sets what needs discussing, in CMM’s Expert Opinion (ep 14, HERE.)

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Jay Cohen (La Trobe U) on using video in on-line learning. “I suspect on-line students, who in all the instances that I am aware of, pay the same price for the on-line version of the subject as those attending the on-campus occurrence, would prefer not to be subjected to “second hand” re-used, rarely captioned or transcribed poor-quality classroom-based recorded video,” he writes. Its Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in learning and teaching.

plus Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the power of learning locally. “The real interactions students have with their teachers and with each other will sit within their memories and help shape their identities.”

James Cook U to have a full med-school in Cairns

Students will study all their degree there, rather than having to Townsville for the first three years

The university announces a 40 strong first year intake at the Cairns campus, with 20 being newly funded places. JCU says it has “a strong case” for “a share” of the 80 new medical places the Commonwealth is providing nationally.

This is a big win for JCU and it partly delivers on its push to expand medicine across FNQ. Last year the university lobbied for 80 more medicine places to create a full med school degree in Mackay, as well as Cairns (CMM November 15 2021).

“Cairns and the Far North deserve high-quality local health care, and young people here deserve opportunities to study for rewarding professional careers,” Dean of Medicine and Dentistry Richard Murray says.

and the other winner is: This is pretty much the argument that Charles Darwin U, VC Scott Bowman makes for medical school there. Plus, “it’s quite strange and remarkable that the NT, which is six times the size of the UK and has unique and pressing medical challenges, is the only state or territory with no Commonwealth-funded medical places in the country,” (CMM August 9).

Professor Bowman wants 40 med school places to start next year – he probably won’t get that many but surely he will get enough to start.

Monash U announces 3 per cent pay rise

The December increase will be the first under the enterprise agreement yet to be negotiated

It follows a 1 per cent rise, the last under the old agreement, in July, (CMM July 11 2022).

VC Margaret Gardner tells staff, the context for yesterday’s announcement is “the full effects of the previous two years of declining enrolments and revenues, as well as rising inflation.” The university, she warns is “projecting a deficit.”

“It is my hope” the 3 per cent “acknowledges the current financial strain being experienced by staff due to present economic conditions,” the VC adds.

It probably won’t. The university had a $259 surplus in 2020 and $259m in 2021 (CMM February 8, May 3).

The National Tertiary Education Union wants three annual 5 per cent pay rises under new agreements at all universities (CMM May 31).

VET reform can deliver much the same


Charles Darwin University’s Don Zoellner has published a paper (HERE) which could prove crucial to deliberations on the next National Skills Agreement

His research looks at how VET markets have operated in the smaller jurisdictions (i.e. WA, SA, Tasmania, the NT and the ACT) over the last 30 years. He finds that:

* almost two-thirds of providers have been active for 10 years, 40 per cent for more than 16 years

* 112 of the 121 non-profit providers have been RTOs for more than 13 years, and only one new non-profit RTO has entered any of the five markets since 2018

* qualifications from 11 training packages “dominate the product offerings” and on average 85 per cent of all students in these five markets are enrolled in the top 15 (of 51) training packages, and

* despite introducing different reforms at different times the provider market share of government funded students in 2020 on average was very similar to what it was in 1990

All of this means we now have a situation where the original policy intention to introduce more choice into the sector has been achieved in terms of the large number of RTOs in operation, and the sector now operates more efficiently, but:

* there is a heavy concentration in terms of what is now offered, and

* there is a similar distribution and number of providers (relative to population size), and

* “for most purposes they (providers) are like each other”, i.e. not very innovative or differentiated so there is little actual choice.

Don argues that, based on other sectors of government activity where markets have been introduced and then matured, policymakers need to be looking at two related approaches:

* optimisation: whereby VET would be managed as a networked system of “interdependent components” with TAFE, adult and community education and private providers working cooperatively with each other and with government and industry to achieve specific aims, and

* public value management: where the focus is on government using its funds deliberately to create public value “in ways that enable private and public actors to co-design, collaborate and innovate to solve societal problems.”

There are elements of these approaches in the sector already, e.g. some of the Victorian government’s latest VET policy initiatives have a strong emphasis on partnerships and localised solutions and the NSW government gives significant authority to their regional offices in VET funding decisions.

Claire Field will be discussing Dr Zoellner’s research findings with him at a free AVETRA ‘OctoberVET’ webinar on 31 October

Productivity Commission on study-choice: led students decide

“Nobody can predict what some of the specific jobs of the future will look like.  That is why an agile and adaptable education system is so essential for driving future productivity gains”

The Commission’s interim report, “From learning to growth” is out for comment this morning. There is a bunch to comment on, including critical assessment of the previous government’s Job Ready Graduates funding model (scroll down)

While not ruling out full-fee courses the Commission proposes three ways government should subsidise study

* “more equitably, either in-line with private benefits or as a flat rate”

* annual prices and loan caps set on “the efficient cost of delivery”

* gradual introduction of loans in VET for Certificate III and up

As for subsidies based on skills shortages

“subsidy differentials have little effect on behaviour.”

Plus, “students appear to make good choices of their own volition. They have the best information about their own abilities and interests, making them well disposed to make decisions about what they will enjoy – and benefit from – studying.”

And there are limitations to teaching delivery

* “incentives to invest in teaching quality are dampened by limitations to informed student choice and tightly controlled system settings”

*  technology can improve “access and outcomes” but not “poorly designed on-line courses”

* VET graduates need to be more adaptable to rapidly changing skill needs, career progression and lifelong learning


Kris Ryan is appointed DVC Academic at Uni Queensland. He moves from Monash U, where he is PVC A.

The PC nails it on Jobs Ready Graduates package


The commentary from the Productivity Commission is a damning indictment on the Job Ready Graduate package, which the Go8 has consistently argued has led to perverse outcomes for students and  universities

The package cut overall funding for engineering  – an area of critical shortage – by 16 percent  and at the same time it more than doubled the cost of humanities courses for students.

These students now pay for 93 per cent of the total cost of their degree compared to just 13 per cent in some other courses such as agriculture, forestry studies and fisheries sciences. Under this package, we were effectively funded  less to teach more students – many of whom  will and have paid more for their degree at a time when they can least afford to.

Group of Eight modelling  indicates that by 2024 we will be expected to teach an additional 5000 students but with a $100m decrease in  our base funding thanks to this flawed  policy, which the Commission notes is underpinned by little public information about how  or why certain courses received less or more funding.

JRG also ignored the evidence on which degrees actually lead to employment. People who do humanities degrees and social science degrees get jobs at about exactly the same rate as science graduates with employment rates, covering either full-time or part-time work, for the two groups roughly the same and we know that 17 out of every 20 graduates Go8 graduates were in full time employment in 2021.

The Commission has also highlighted the need to address the issue of research funding. JRG pulled teaching and research funding apart but in doing so it failed to  address the real costs of research. As the universities which undertake 70 percent of all university based research in Australia, the Go8 strongly backs a full economic cost approach to research rather than relying on cross-subsidisation from university discretionary funds, predominantly from international student revenue.”

Vicki Thomson is chief executive of the Group of Eight