There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, Tania Aspland (deans of education) responds to the Grattan Institute’s call for elite teachers and higher ATARs for degree entry (CMM Monday).

And Angela Carbone (Swinburne U) on closing the graduate skill gap.

A funny thing happened on the way to the symposium

“A humour studies researcher walks into a conference …”

Griffith U announces a “laughter symposium” (Southbank campus, September 9) which, “sets out to show that there is laughter in all disciplines of academic research – yes, even yours,” the Australasian Humour Studies Network assures. It’s a warm-up act for its conference, at Griffith U, in February.

Last year’s conference sounds like it was a hoot – with papers on irony in Iran, failed humour in Chinese sitcoms and stand-up comedy as a social corrective (CMM February 2 2018).

Education Minister deals with big policy issues

Dan Tehan speaks at the National Press Club today, where he will fix issues on his immediate agenda  

campus free speech: Mr Tehan is expected to announce the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching will in future include questions for students about freedom of expression on their campus. “I will work with the sector on what questions to ask to measure diversity of opinion on campus and whether students feel empowered to voice non-conformist opinions.”  The minister adds he will do the same for university staff questionnaires. “I believe universities want to know if students and staff are afraid to discuss certain topics. It is only through diversity of thinking, perspective and intellectual style that we get innovation and problem solving. This is the kind of thinking that universities are there to encourage.”

This is smart indeed. The generality of university managements dislike QILT, because students do not give them the ratings they think they merit – but no one questions its independence. And an independent survey of staff should have the same standing. The government may still decide to upset universities by imposing a free speech code but if it does it will have a solid base to act on.

foreign interference: Word is the minister will announce an officials-uni reps group to look at cyber-security, protecting IP and research security without impeding researchers,  international collaboration and fostering  “a positive security culture”. Whatever this accomplishes it demonstrates the government is acting, without increasing interference by the Defence Department and security services.

Regional, rural, remote strategy: as expected the government will accept all seven key recommendations from the Napthine Review, they include more places in regional campuses and scholarships. Given Mr Tehan’s commitment to RRR education this was always going to happen.

Below: what happens next

Work to Macquarie bank on

Macquarie Bank celebrates its 50th birthday with five $10m research awards

* Monash U’s world mosquito programme: “to protect 100 million people by 2023 from deadly mosquito-borne diseases”

*  Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s world scabies elimination programme: treat 1.5m people in Fiji and the Solomon Islands with 90 per cent disease reduction “with a single round of medicine”

* Last Mile Health:“strengthen existing operations in Liberia and transform national health systems in Malawi and Ethiopia, serving more than 100 million people”

* Social Finance: funding for US low-income students via a loan with capped payments

* Ocean Clean-Up: removing plastics in the Pacific

Tehan spells it out to unis; “if you deliver, we will deliver”

The education minister asserts the government’s authority in higher education and previews transformative plans

Tehan makes it plain: “For too long the higher education sector and the government have stood apart and lectured each other about the future direction of higher education policy,” Mr Tehan told an AFR conference yesterday.

“These debates have typically proceeded from false assumptions on both sides – on the one hand, that the role of government was simply to hand over taxpayer funds and not invest in a partnership as to how those funds are used. On the other hand, many have presumed that public funding should be the sole determinant of the institutional focus of universities.

Neither proposition is sustainable or in the national interest.”

What unis need to know: The minister set out the government’s “comprehensive agenda” for higher education and emphasised the HE sector’s core role in delivering. And he made it plain universities should cooperate, “if you deliver, we deliver.”

What will happen: Mr Tehan set out challenges, including,

* implementing the coming Coaldrake review of HE category standards. In what may be (or maybe not) a signal of what is to come, Mr Tehan described the review as in part examining, “whether we have a system that focuses too much on differences between types of universities and ignores the diversity of the non-university providers by lumping them in one category.” In an assurance that will create conniptions among defenders of the status-quo Mr Tehan added, the government was committed “to work with the sector to implement the findings.”

* work arising from the Noonan review of the Australian Qualifications Framework. “Institutions are increasingly working with industry to offer micro-credentials and the development of essential capabilities – this needs to continue.

* establishing senior secondary pathways to HE, VET and work, (as per the new Shergold review (CMM yesterday)

* industry-HE links on graduate employment. “Preparation for future careers needs to be embedded in students’ courses right from the start.

* working collaboratively on “best-practice guidelines for dealing with foreign interference and “ensuring freedom of speech and academic inquiry.”

Government announces VET expert advisors

The feds invest in VET policy

Skills minister Michaelia Cash creates an independent advisory panel, “on key reforms flowing from the Joyce Review.”  The panel will be chaired by review author Steven Joyce, joined by Victoria U’s Peter Noonan, who chairs the Australian Qualification Framework review, and business leader Vanessa Guthrie.

International student numbers (the end is not as nigh)

Numbers are up on last year but China growth slows

There were 630 000 international students in Australia as of June, 12 per cent up on June ’18. Indians were up 38 per cent, to just under 100 000, with Nepalese numbers growing year on year by 42 per cent, to approach 50 000. However, markets for which great things are now expected, Brazil (4 per cent growth) and Vietnam (up 5 per cent) were around 25 000 each.

Chinese student numbers continued to grow, by six per cent, to around 280 000. However separate stats, on YTD June commencements demonstrate China commencements are slowing. Overall Chinese student starters in the six months to June ’16 were 55 000, 64 000 in ’17, 69 000 in ’18 and 68 000 this year.

Seven-year registration ASQA registration what it may, or may not, deliver


I’ve noticed a number of RTOs commenting with pride recently because the Australian Skills Quality Authority has granted them re-registration for the full seven-year period. No doubt that’s because they looked at this advice when the seven-year re-registration period was introduced. It stated that “the granting of a seven-year registration period is not guaranteed. ASQA will continue to exercise its discretion when determining an RTO’s registration period.”

No wonder it’s a cause for celebration then when ASQA grants a provider the full seven years’ re-registration.

In fact, unlike TEQSA and the NZQA which give providers different registration periods based on their confidence in the provider (and publish the reasons for their decisions), ASQA does not follow the same practice.

ASQA staff tell providers that the period of registration “makes no difference”. RTOs are routinely given the full seven-year registration period because ASQA can audit at any time based on risk.

Surely the sector deserves clarity – does seven years’ re-registration mean ASQA has the highest level of confidence in an RTO’s performance? Some statistics would be helpful to clear up the confusion: specifically, of the total number of RTOs which have been re-registered since May 2015, how many were granted a registration period of less than seven years?

Claire Field advises on VET, international education and private higher education

 Appointments, achievements

 Marcia Devlin (Victoria U) and Lesley Parker (former Curtin U DVC) join the advisory board of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.  Erin Watson-Lynn will chair for a second three-year term. The centre is based at Curtin U.

Karen Clark-Burg is appointed dean of nursing and midwifery at the Fremantle campus of University of Notre Dame Australia. She moves from acting dean.

John Angus (CSIRO and Charles Sturt U) wins the C M Donald medal from the Australian Society of Agronomy. Peter Sale (La Trobe U) is the society’s 2019 fellow. Kenton Porker (South Australian Research and Development Institute) is young agronomist of the year