University colleges are now a thing

For people who were unaccountably not watching the Senate yesterday, the provider category standards bill passed 

Labor’s Kimberley Kitching said the Opposition would back the bill, but expressed concerns at more work  for regulator TEQSA for the same money and she didn’t like the new category of “university colleges” which meant private providers could present themselves as universities “without being subject to the same strict standards.”

She also spoke on the government’s many failings on universities, in contrast with Labor’s splendid performance in government. But she first concluded “I commend the bill” before, switching mid-sentence to a less enthusiastic “we support the bill.”

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens-NSW) also supported the bill, with even less enthusiasm, pointing to the “lack of clarity” ion powers held by the minister and TEQSA, on the university college category and the “extent of the delegation to TEQSA and the minister, “which she said is not proportionate or appropriate.

“The standards by which we judge our universities and the research they produce should be scrutinised by the Senate,” she said. Senator Fehruqi also pointed to many other failings and called for (doomed) amendments.

Labor’s Kim Carr also spoke, delivering a less than impressed critique of the bill, based on decades HE policy experience.

And yet the bill passed.

Scott Bowman new VC at Charles Darwin U

The Northern Territory News scooped the uni, announcing the appointment the other day – which caused crocniptions on campus

Acting VC Mike Wilson said council had not decided (CMM February 17). But now it has, with news Professor Bowman is taking over in May.

The former VC of CQU is a good pick. He will know what he is getting into at a regional university with VET and HE portfolios, which needs to grow to meet its communities needs but is light-on for resources.

Federal figures show CDU ran an 8.3 per cent operating deficit in 2018 (CMM April 2 2020). The Northern Territory Auditor General reports that the university’s operating loss was $8.7m for 2019, way better than the $21.3m in ’18, although this was largely due to more federal funding, rather than any savings.

It will be a familiar situation for Professor Bowman. CQU made losses, years in the making, but occurring on his watch, in 2011 and 2012. So, he cut and cut again, (although two-thirds of staff exits were via voluntary redundancies). But he was always up-beat, telling all who would listen CQU was viable and would be successful. And by 2015 the university was on the way out of the monetary mangroves, with resources to pay for a research expansion (CMM April 23 2015).

By the time he left in 2019 CQU  was challenging James Cook U for students in far north Queensland and was beginning work to secure a medical school.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the place for micro-credentials (it isn’t at university). “Many introductory micro-credentials can be delivered by teaching-only private providers that have lower costs than universities and better systems for gathering short, repeat bookings. I have a micro-credential – my driving licence – but I did not go to Harvard and pay their fees to get it.”


Tim Pitman (Curtin U) on support for students with a disability. Good services are undermined, “by a single bad actor, process or learning design.”  It makes the case for making disability awareness training mandatory for all staff, he argues. It’s a new selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

And, Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) on the universities that need, really need, international students taking coursework masters and what their absence means for coffers and campus life.

Four ways to protect against cyber attack

The threat is only going to increase in terms of magnitude and impact

“As mass-connectivity and sensor driven digital campuses become a reality – enabled by next-generation technologies – university leaders will need to take secure a much larger surface area,” Cisco and Optus warn. In Features this week, they propose four ways unis can respond.

And how large, pray, will that surface area be?  “The rapid (and permanent) shift to virtual learning and remote teaching and administration has completely changed the education landscape and pose opportunities to reimagine what the work and learning experience looks like for staff and students alike,” Cisco and Optus also explain.

Worse to come at La Trobe U

VC John Dewar tells staff that last year was better than this will be, with revenue down $170m on pre-pandemic forecast

 LT U’s 2020 result was an operating deficit of $9m, on revenues $90m lower than the pre Covid-19 estimate. Professor Dewar attributes it to quickly moving to reduce non-salary expenditure and the voluntary redundancies and temporary pay reductions agreed with the National Tertiary Education Union. “The prompt action we took last year has set the university on a strong path to long-term sustainability,” he says.

But that path will be long, as well as strong. With international students returning this year “unlikely,” revenue recovery will be delayed until 2023.

“The challenges we face have not diminished,” the VC adds.

And so, the university Transformation Programme will continue, with the focus “on courses and subjects with strong demand” and on “continuing to improve the efficiency of services and business operations.”

Which all alarms the campus branch of the NTEU, “we are extremely disappointed to see that the university’s position is as dire as presented in the VC’s email, and we will be seeking further information from the VC next week,” a representative told CMM last night



Students at home instead of away


There’s not just a bunch of internationals students who want to get into Australia – there’s a mob of locals who used to get out

 They certainly did before COVID-19 closed the country. According to the Australian Universities International Directors Forum, 58 000 students took an abroad experience in 2019, up 11.3 per cent on 2018.

In 2019, nearly one in four Australian undergraduates from the 34 universities in the study took a gap year (or longer) from a range of 156 countries.

The top three experiences were faculty-led study tours (22 per cent), internships/placements (20 per cent) and programmes at a host university (16 per cent).

The survey, conducted since 2005, demonstrates changes in where students chose to go, with growing numbers visiting Asia-Pacific nations under the New Colombo Plan.

In 2018, 49 per cent had their “learning abroad” experience in Indo-Pacific nations, followed by China (15 per cent), the US (9 per cent) and UK (8 per cent)

But not in 2020 and this year students can participate in a “virtual” New Colombo Plan programme, “which will maintain the momentum of the NCP (and) encourage increased diversity and participation by students for whom international travel presents challenges,” DFAT optimistically announces.

A couple of years back the big study abroad story was the growth in student numbers and the great achievement that was the NCP.

Now, not so much, whoever is operating the chair lift at Whistler, pulling beers at a London pub or on an Asia study-tour, it isn’t Australian students.

Also in CMM today, Lyi Thi Tran (Deakin U) and colleagues on outcomes for NCP alumni

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent   




Big slices, small pies

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes wants it known how well its members did for National Health and Medical Research Council grants last year

AAMRI picked up 51 per cent of Ideas Grant funding and 44 per cent of Investigator Grants.

But the success rates per application weren’t that great, 12 per cent of Ideas Grant applications (9.8 per cent for all research apps) and 14.8 per cent for Investigator Grants (13.3 per for all apps).

It’s all relative, innit.

In learning abroad culture counts

Students taking-study abroad trips is generally assumed to be a generic good-thing, but surely experience and outcomes differ by country and culture

Ly Thi Tran (Deakin U) and colleagues decided to find out what works for New Colombo Plan participants. Via surveys, interviews and fieldwork they explored Australian students’ learning and engagement from the plan to discover they not only were exposed to cultures new to them but developed ambitions and understanding of what they could do with their lives.

“Learning abroad should be designed and delivered with the focus not only on honing students’ development of technical knowledge and skills but also on strategically nurturing their professional and intercultural connections with the region and their understandings about the region,” they write, in the Higher Education Quarterly.

The paper extends Professor Tran’s research on host nations response to the NCP (CMM January 27)

Petite grants for Pacific projects

The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia announces funding for collaborative projects with French researchers

Alexis Bergantz, (RMIT University): trans-colonial history of Australia and New Caledonia

Adam Craig (UNSW): citizen science observation of arboviral-carrying mosquitos in Pacific islands

Pierre Levasseur, (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment): obesity in Tuvalu

Emilie Dotte-Sarout (UWA): pre-colonial settlement in New Caledonia

 Project grants are $20 000, which may not sound much, but is way more than the $7000 Academy grants for joint projects with Chinese researchers (CMM February 15).

Appointments, achievements

Of the day

 Gary Thomas (Uni Sunshine Coast) joins the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education’s advisory board.

Of the week

 The American Society for Microbiology announces its 65 2021 Fellows. Three are Australian-based; Alex Andrianopoulos (Uni Melbourne), Brajesh Singh (Western Sydney U) and Timothy Stinear (Uni Melbourne).

Alison Bashford (UNSW) wins the US $1m Dan David Prize (based at Tel Aviv University), which is for interdisciplinary research. Professor Bashford is rewarded for her work on global medicine and public health.

John Brumby (La Trobe U chancellor) is the new chair of the Victorian Government’s International Education Advisory Council. He replaces former Deakin U VC Jane den Hollander.

Courtney Cardow joins Uni Queensland as Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit. She moves from Griffith U where she was senior manager for the GUMURRII Student Success Unit at Griffith University.

Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop (Uni Queensland) wins the C. E. K. Mees Medal from the Optical Society of America.

Rory Medcalf (ANU) joins the Scientific Advisory Council of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Amanda Nettelbeck (Australian Catholic U and Uni Adelaide) receives the ANZ Law and History Society’s 2020 prize for legal history for Indigenous Rights and Colonial Subjecthood (Cambridge UP).

Justine Nolan is the new director of the Australian Human Rights Institute (at UNSW). She replaces inaugural director Louise Chappell.

The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network establishes a scientific advisory committee. Pascal Perez (Uni Wollongong) is chair.

The South Australian Scientists of the Year are Sharad Kumar (Uni SA) and Colin Raston (Flinders U)

Michael Stuckey joins U Tas as dean of law. He moves from Victoria U, where he was dean of law (and justice).