Wrong year for rite of passage

Chris Hayes (Labor, NSW) in the House of Reps yesterday:

“It’s time to rethink the validity of the HSC, particularly for this year, and its relevance to university entry. … I don’t believe this year’s HSC is a valid tool of the assessment, but the current level of uncertainty is certainly affecting the welfare of our students.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on NSW unis investment strategies – borrowing for infrastructure and investments (does no-one remember Lehman Brothers?)

plus Sally Patmore and Jenny Gore on a Uni Newcastle programme to assist university teachers with no training in teaching. It’s Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in learning and teaching.”

and check-out Colin Simpson’s pick of ed-tech resources in CMM yesterday

Aus hits IDP hard

The company reports student placements to Australia for the 2021 financial year were down 40 per cent on 2020, compared to a 12 drop overall

Income for student placements to Australia was down from $90.4m in 2020 to $59.7m. Among major competitors, there was a 4 per cent increase in volume of students starting courses in the UK. But while Canada was “strong” volumes were down 12 per cent, “impacted by border closures and delays in visa processing.”

India (down 24 per cent) and China (17 per cent) still account for the bulk of IDP’s placement business.

Overall revenue fell 10 per cent to, $528m with net profit of $39.5m

Last year IDP chief executive Andrew Barkla set out three steps Australia needed to take urgently to “retain” its international education market,

* “clear facts on visas and fees”

* welfare programmes for international students

* screenings and medical checks for arriving international students

“This is too important to be caught up in bureaucracy. Australia must act now, or its thriving international education sector – and its reputation as a nation – will be irreparably damaged,” he wrote in CMM (May 26 2020).

They did not happen – and international demand is down

Tales of two cities: SA unis financial results

Uni SA and Flinders U managed ok last year – not budgeting big on international student income certainly helped as Uni Adelaide shows

Uni Adelaide reports a 2020 net operating result of $9.3m – management is keen to make clear this barely covers wages for a week

The annual report tabled in state parliament reveals a steady state on 2019 – net earnings were just $3m down on 2019, on revenues of $977m. However, while international student income was steady at $254m – this was nearly $40m under target in a 2020 growth budget.

While the university found $90m in savings it warns in an accompanying statement that $30m more and $20m in new income are needed to offset projected shortfalls in 2022-23.

Crisis? What crisis? at Uni SA 

“I am grateful to report that we emerged from 2020 with only a little scathe,” VC David Lloyd writes in Uni SA’s annual report. Such a slight scathe that there were marginal improvements on metrics that mattered. Overall student starts were up a bit, international students (by load) stayed with Uni SA. Revenue increased marginally and expenditure was contained. Employment expenses were up $20m, to $432m – some of which may have been from a voluntary retirement scheme but overall FTE numbers increased by 65 to 2740.

Overall revenue was up $10m (to $694m) with an unchanged $21.3m operating result.

Calm seas for Flinders U

Tough times were not terrible – international student numbers (on and off-shore) were stable and staff count stayed the same from 2019. Income was up $5m, and costs were down $9m, thanks to $11m in non-staff savings.

Overall Finders U reports $535m in revenue and a 7 per cent operating margin – the way-best for five years. “Endeavour, prudence and careful planning means that Flinders University is in good financial shape to progress our future plans,” VC Colin Stirling says.

A 2016-18 restructure, effecting just about everywhere and everybody at the university, to repair finances and meet new benchmarks in teaching, research and administration can’t have hurt either.

Engineering a new education

It’s 12 years since the last review of engineering education, so discipline deans commissioned a two-year study of what needs to change

The report by Peter Lee and 13 colleagues for the Australian Council of Engineering Deans comprehensively catalogues what engineers will need to do and how students should be taught to do it.

Among many challenges the report calls for a new emphasis in courses.

“Industry wants to see a re-balancing of the theory-practice components of professional engineering education, with a greater emphasis on practice, including the human dimensions of engineering,” the reviewers conclude.

Rank and file academics responding to a survey specified ways to deliver.

* change in teaching practice * integrating real-world situations in teaching * using digital technologies to model engineering problems * increased industry collaboration * “integrating human/social dimensions within technical contexts” and * use of e-learning

As for issues to address, they include; * cost of scaling up for large cohorts, especially in practice-based education *limited access to industry partners and lack of work placements * limited availability of qualified teaching staff with significant industrial practice * programmes that target specific student cohorts rather than looking to a diverse student intake and * accreditation of programmes that challenge traditional models.

And because engineers are practical people they also acknowledge impediments, * resistance to change, * organisational structures and disciplinary silos

Perhaps the most optimistic outcome of the report is Professor Lee’s conclusion that engineering academics are up for the challenges. “In the past year they have demonstrated remarkable willingness to change their teaching practices in response to the new COVID environment, adapting quickly to online delivery, and willing to further adapt the curriculum. They understand industry’s desire to have students exposed more to industrial practice.”


Fast off the training blocks

VET’s COVID-19 response was “quick and decisive” with on-line only subjects increasing by 24 per cent last year on 2019

According to research by Sheila Hume and Tabatha Griffin for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research, some 75 per cent of in-person registered training organisations surveyed in February-March reported moving at least some training and assessment on-line in response to the pandemic last year.

A year later only 25 per cent had reverted fully to pre COVID-19 delivery. More than 60 per cent who had moved at least some training on-line “indicated” they were “more likely” to, “use blended learning in the future.”

Given where NSW, the ACT and Victoria are six months later that was wise.

But obstacles endure for on-line VET. Providers cite subjects not amenable to teaching on-line and students who struggle with it. Hume and Griffin refer to research that delivering VET on-line is “associated with” lower course completions and higher subject withdrawals.

Smart questions from skills minister

Employment and skills Minister Stuart Robert had questions about the training system in a National Skills Week address Tuesday

Speaking at an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on-line event Mr Robert put a range of issues on the agenda, including, why ministers have to sign off on changes to trade qualifications and why updating them can take year. And why course costs differ across jurisdictions. He also raised attrition in apprenticeships, shortages of IT workers that VET could be filling, but isn’t and why micro-credentials aren’t being embraced. Good questions in an address which is not yet on the minister’s website.


The Jian Zhou Medal for “rising stars” in translational medical science goes to Sherene Loi (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) and Di Yu (Uni Queensland).  The medal was established in 2019 by the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. It honours the memory of the late Dr Zhu, who worked with Ian Frazer on the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines.