Plus Uni SA defined by its honours

and the 15 institutions that collect 84 per cent of NHMRC funding

Subversive Sherwood

The University of Nottingham has unveiled a very large statue of Robin Hood at its campus in Ningbo, China, but is this wise? A folk hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor may be just a touch too subversive for plutocrats with party pals. Perhaps a heroic representation of the Comrade Sheriff would be better.


Nothing on the bottom line

In a move which seems calculated to have some university’s setting the spin cycle to high, but isn’t, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will publish financial data from higher education providers this month.

The decision follows consultations where there “was strong support for the public release of selected sector data held by TEQSA.”

But before you applaud this welcome move to open governance the data will be 100 per cent accurate and 100 per cent useless.  “To protect the confidentiality of providers’ data through the release of data in an aggregated and de-identified form”, “it is proposed that the metrics would be released by provider groupings of provider type and provider size (total EFTSL).”

How thoughtful of TEQSA not to publish separate financials for each institution – if they had done that people interested in how universities use billions of taxpayer dollars would have been denied the pleasure of translating annual reports into English and cross-referencing them against reports by the various state auditor generals.

Beach culture

The University of the Sunshine Coast’s April Fool’s joke was a Simpson Desert campus offering a Bachelor of Sand Management but as a reader points out, with a graduate employment rate of just over 60 per cent, (on QILT) compared to QUT, which is 20 per cent ahead, “USC graduates have plenty of time for sand management on Sunshine Coast beaches.”

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Times are tight

There is no new news in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s  grant statistics for 2014, just released. But the old news looks worse for most aspiring researchers for being presented in a time-series.

For example, in 2010 some 758 of 3232 (23.5 per cent) of project grant applications were successful. By 2014 just 533 of 3700 (14.9 per cent) were. The outcomes for applications by women also got worse, with a 21 per cent success rate in 2010 and 13.4 per cent in 2014. In total women won just 248 project grants in 2010, down to 184 in ’14 – the comparable figures for men were 510 (24.8 per cent) and 369, (15.9 per cent).

Successful grants are also getting longer, which is good for the researchers that get them but bad for applicants with more concise projects. Grants for four and five years doubled between 2013 and 2014 while those requiring three year funding fell from 528 in ’13 to 322 the next year. In 2014 longer grants accounted for 34 per cent of all applications and 39 per cent of successful ones.

The really bad news is for researchers outside the first 15 of funded institutions, which accounted for 84 per cent of grant funds in 2014. The University of Melbourne was first with just under $100m, followed by Monash U ($95), UofSydney ($85m), UofQ ($67m), UNSW (63m), Walter and Eliza Hall ($53m), UWA ($37m), Uni Adelaide ($24m), QIMR (24m), Uni Newcastle ($19m), Murdoch Childrens MRS ($18m), Baker IDI ($17m), Macquarie U (16m) Menzies ($16m) and the Garvan ($15m).

The only spectacular change from 2013 was the arrival of Macquarie U in the top 15, rocketing up from 29th place.

Follow the leader

ANU VC Brian Schmidt is a new senior fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. The university is the first Australian institutional member of the HEA and “I encourage all at ANU to engage as well as well as to improve teaching,” Professor Schmidt says. That shuffling sound this morning is staff queuing to apply.


Defined by whom it honours

Sally Pearin graduates from the University of South Australia tomorrow, the 150 000th person to do so. It will be a big week for her but also for UniSA, which will use graduation week to reinforce its applied research and community service brand with five astute awards of hon docs. Jack Manning Bancroft is acknowledged as founder of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. Marie Coleman is recognised for a lifetime of public policy service to women. Evonne Goolagong Cawley is honoured for her work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s health. Maggie Beer is applauded for promoting South Australian food culture and healthy eating. And Gary Banks is applauded for his career long advocacy of evidence-based public policy, notably as head of the Productivity Commission.

APP of the day

Monash U has a mobile phone app that records asthma symptoms and medicine consumption, supported by a handheld device that measures lung capacity and function. Data is stored on a central server accessible to users and carers.

All quiet in Warrnambool

When it comes to keeping its university campus it seems not much is happening in Warrnambool. “Work continues on finding a lasting solution,” says Deakin University, which has announced it is walking away from its low enrolment campus there. However no other institution wants to replace it, at least not publicly. Federation U, with a network of campuses across regional Victoria is an obvious contender but as a dual sector provider it could provide competition that the local TAFE, not long emerged from its own time of troubles, may not welcome. Expect to see community leaders up the pressure in the lead-up to the election, because after it there will be nothing to stop Deakin turning off the lights and ignoring protests as it leaves.

Help for Uni Melbourne casuals

While the workforce restructure being planned at the University of Melbourne is unsettling staff in general it is surely especially unnerving for people whose employment is insecure to start with. The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union will launch a campaign on their behalf on Thursday week, lunchtime at Babel 106.


Nothing secret in VET strategy

So much for the government’s secret plan to privatise training. It was to intended to deliver “the end of TAFE as we know it” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Malcolm Turnbull should “come clean on his secret plan to destroy TAFELabor training spokeswomen Sharon Bird thundered. And yet Friday’s communiqué from the meeting of industry and skills ministers included nothing of the sort. In fact about the most significant decision was to adopt the Australian Industry and Skills Committee’s changes to the base qualification for trainers, the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. The certificate will now include core units on adult literacy and numeracy and developing effectiveness measurement tools. The committee also called for all existing trainers to complete the new units.

However MINCO did authorise the release of the ACIL Allen review of progress on national skills reform, which reports that while prospective students have more choices where to study there are fewer courses on offer and too many people are enrolling in courses they are unlikely to complete.

And in a finding that will be quoted to the crack of doom, the review states that all involved recognise that public providers “are more than just another provider.”

“Transformation of the public provider role requires a steady, evolutionary process, otherwise there are strong risks of losing the value invested in the current capacity and capability of public provision.”

However the review also reported demand for training to be less supply driven and more demand from industry and employers led. And in the understatement of the epoch it stated “widespread support for the retention of a student entitlement approach” but strong calls for improvements to the architecture of the reform elements, and for better targeting of government support and investment.”

Echoing Peter Noonan’s suggestion (CMM March 16) also calls for a VET equivalent of the Bradley Report into higher education; “a detailed roadmap … that establishes the place and purpose of VET and enables a more definitive specification of the most appropriate future reform actions and outcomes … and to determine what changes to the national training system architecture and the respective roles of all parties are required.”

Perhaps the location to the supposed secret plan is in the roadmap.