Plus Bruce Chapman proposes HECS for VET

Uni of Western (significant) Sydney

University of Western Sydney management is briefing staff this week on the new campaign to rebadge and reposition the university. This is a very big deal indeed for UWS, at least according to Angelo Kourtis, vice president for people and advancement. “This is a significant event in the university’s history. It will elevate the university to its rightful place in Australia’s higher education landscape and community.”

The significant event starts on August 30 and includes print, radio, TV, outdoor exposure rolling out over months.


Chapman and Higgins: extend HECS to VET

Bruce Chapman proposes extending availability of income contingent loans in a new paper for the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, obtained by CMM and to be released this morning. In particular the father of HECS and his ANU colleague Timothy Higgins propose extending ICLs to VET Certificate III and IV students.

To fund it they propose variable interest rates on graduate repayments.

“A hybrid arrangement that charges CPI indexation to lower income earners and bond rate indexation to those with higher incomes, would likely be more progressive and less costly than universal CPI indexation. The modelling demonstrates that changing loan interest rates would have relatively little effect on loan recovery for Certificate III or IV debtors, but could have a substantial impact on curtailing costs if loan amounts are large or increasing. “

The authors acknowledge, but have no answer to the risk of opportunist providers rorting the system to get student fee income from government and leaving VET students stuck with debts for low quality courses, as per the Victorian experience, addressed by Bruce Mackenzie, below.

“The misalignment between those receiving a financial gain (course providers) and those bearing the risk, can lead to undesirable incentives for course providers to enrol students who are not suited to a particular course, and to charge excessive fees. We encourage further discussion on policy design that would make course providers more accountable for the fees charged and quality of education provided.”

This is a major addition to the voced debate, a paper with potential to address the decline in enrolments. But it is not a panacea, as the authors acknowledge;

“there are necessarily consequences for students if subsidies are reduced. Although income contingency ensures that a debtor’s loan repayments in any year are a fixed percentage of their income, reducing ICL subsidies or direct subsidies and thereby passing more costs to students must mean lower lifetime disposable income for those affected. Achieving an acceptable and appropriate balance between student costs and public outlays is a challenging and critical issue.”

Dissent de jour

Among last week’s vigorous exchanges about which universities’ degrees delivered biggest graduate salaries, Roger Wilkins, whose analysis of HILDA data started the stoush, suggested that deregulated fees would have to be way high before the premium all degrees pay eroded. At least, CMM suggested, the entire higher education community would agree on that.

Yes, CMM should have known better, all citizens of the Republic of Letters never agree on anything. As the learned Paul Kniest from the National Tertiary Education Union explained. “In microeconomics it’s what happens at the margin that is important. Therefore any increase in fees and/or debt will change someone’s internal (perhaps even unconscious) calculation of the net returns to an investment in their own human capital or undertaking a degree. All sorts of actors will enter into people’s calculations including employment prospects, expected future incomes, individual risk profiles and attitudes toward risk and so on an so forth. The point is, any increase in fees will affect some individual’s decisions, even if the data show that on average it won’t have any affect. The crossbench Senators opposed to fee deregulation get this, because the people who will be affected are their constituents, and they tell them so.”

“I am sure I will not be alone in this view,” he added. Somebody is bound to disagree.

Finally big ideas on the agenda 

CMM isn’t puzzled by the response, or rather the lack of it, to Bruce MacKenzie and Neil Coulson’s issues paper for their Victorian Government review of VET funding. The inquiry is immensely important, a badly designed voucher system, gamed by unscrupulous private providers cost the state a fortune and a new model is still needed. Whatever MacKenzie and Coulson conclude will influence policy across the country. And yet the lobbies, especially the vocal TAFE team in the public education unions, who loathe public funding of private training providers, have not said much. Nor has the private provider peak body responded. The likely reason is that they are all digesting the mass of complex proposals in the paper. As a CMM correspondent wise in the ways of VET policy puts it; “this is the kind of thought leading paper that should have been done in 2008 rather than the naive market design that drove the first vocational training guarantee and the corrections of the second, which led to mud attaching itself to the quality of VET nationally. It’s well written and voices many of the wicked issues openly – at last!” A Victorian TAFE insider agrees that McKenzie and Coulson could supply the intellectual oxygen to energise VET. “I sense that the embarrassment level concerning VET in Australia but particularly in Victoria is now sufficient to bring about changes to the funding and management of the sector such that it starts to function once again.”

CEF June 15 3

But the most pleased people will be VETerans who do not think more money for TAFE and less, or none, for private providers will fix everything because the review looks forward, not back. One proposal that stands out is the idea of degree awarding polytechnics. “a regional polytechnic could deliver a broad range of qualifications, including at bachelor degree level, across the state.” This was an idea Mr MacKenzie considered in 2012 as CEO of Holmesglen TAFE, when he planned to offer University of Canberra courses at his college. Then Labor education minister Chris Evans vetoed Commonwealth funding of student places but here it is again.

Where ‘alright” is an accolade

On Friday CMM suspected that the Murdoch University staff survey now underway might indicate that acting VC Andrew “the stroller” Taggart is doing okay in the aftermath of Richard Higgott’s precipitate resignation after the WA Corruption and Crime Commission announced an inquiry into undisclosed allegations last year. To which Murdoch readers replied, that Professor Taggart was indeed doing alright-ish. Given the universitys  tumultuous past this passes for praise.

Big win for Swinburne NTEU

Swinburne University management went into the Federal Court on Friday morning hoping the bench would throw out the National Tertiary Education Union claim that last year’s staff vote in favour of a new enterprise agreement was invalid (CMM June 17). The union argued past casual staff who were not actually on the payroll when the vote occurred should not have been allowed to vote. However the court upheld the union argument, with Justice Pagone stating the university did not check on the status of former sessionals who were unlikely to be employed again.

According to the NTEU the court’s decision is clear, “an employee must be employed at the time of the ballot. This means they must be ‘immediately’ employed at the time, not just at some time in the past year.” According to Swinburne management, “the practical effect of the decision will be to severely limit the voting rights that many casual academic staff have traditionally exercised at Australian universities.”

So what happens now? The university says the matter now goes back to Fair Work Australia, but it is hard to see anything other than another staff vote, at least 18 months after the first one. It also means Swinburne continues to operate under the 2009 enterprise agreement – which requires management to negotiate with the NTEU on just about all changes to staff conditions. The proposed agreement would give management more latitude. This is going it make it much tougher for the university to have the academic productivity proposals outlined last week adopted.

Mindhive 1

Selective solidarity

Just as the Swinburne NTEU was having a win in court over when casual academics are allowed to vote in university enterprise ballots the union’s NSW branch was involved in a Twitter discussion on the way casual staff do most of the work in Australian higher education, just with fewer employment rights and less pay than permanent staff. The discussion is @ Twitter #securework. “What an amazing conversation – full of powerful stories, great ideas & much solidarity. This is how change starts,” the NSW NTEU tweeted – perhaps not for casuals at Swinburne.

Time for excellent ideas

It may be a little late to start working on a bid but for those that are well underway the Australian Research Council reminds that expressions of interest for 2017 Centres of Excellence are due by Wednesday.

Must speak bureaucrat

Training Minister Simon Birmingham is implementing the new training assessment infrastructure with tenders being announced announced his week for Skills Services Organisations. The SSOs “provide administrative, technical and operational support to assist Industry Reference Committees in their engagement with industries,” (CMM April 22). CMM thinks this means that the former will do the work on creating training packages for the latter to approve. But don’t think the SSOs will report to IRCs, good lord no. Instead they are responsible to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, which oversights everybody. The tender makes no mention of being able to deal with bureaucratic ambiguity as a mandatory skill but CMM suspects this structure will scare off all but training insiders. Anybody brave enough can register interest here.

ANU June 4

La Trobe’s big deal

As of August 5 the Department of Industry and Science has a new structure, reflecting the government’s obsession, pardon, emphasis on applied research. Jane Urquhart, who also oversees science agencies governance and Australia’s role in the Square Kilometer Array, leads Science and Commercialisation Policy. Michael Schwager heads entrepreneur development, which includes “accelerating commercialisation and research connections.” Everybody clear on what that team is supposed to do.

La Trobe University certainly is, establishing a new position, PVC Industry Engagement. The job requires selling La Trobe to entrepreneurs and them to the university community plus developing and implementing “the vision” for the university’s R&D Park. CMM suspects the job is also about ensuring the university is ready if the government introduces an impact measure for research funding.