Plus big deal block chains and VET FEE HELP, the Ted Cruz of Australian training

The day after

Selective cuts, and a higher education inquiry, a day after the budget and it’s back to business as usual – although maybe there is hope in the block chain.

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Hard sell

There is $10m in the budget for a “national campaign” promoting VET and explaining “the redesign” of VET FEE HELP. The generality of government advertising is as useful as “an elect Ted Cruz” advertisement but creative that can restore the reputation of the VET loans system will be a bargain at twice this price.

HEPPP takes hits

Conor King is an adept in the dark arts of budget papers and has delved into funding for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme back to 2011 and what is promised through to 2020. What the Innovative Research Universities chief finds is that the year ending is as good as it is going to get for HEPPP. In 2013 HEPP funding for 2016-17 was expected to be $190m, this year’s budget provides $140m. According to forward estimates this year, by 2019-20 it will be $110m, unless of course it gets cut in the intervening years. “It is difficult to interpret this other than as the result of a desire to have some extra money to reallocate or use for the budget bottom line,” he says.

Big deal block chains

Data61 (the new name for what was NICTA) is reviewing how block chains (as in the system behind Bitcoin) can work in government services. Here’s hoping they include higher education. As ANU’s Marnie Hughes Warrington points out, a block chain could make possible a global credit transfer system for courses (CMM March 18). And Jason Potts (RMIT) and colleagues suggest that a block chain for research publishing could make journals obsolete (CMM April 26).


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Cashed up QILT

The government is spending some of the savings from closing the Office of Learning and Teaching on an extra $8m for the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching website. If private providers of information on student experience, course quality and graduate outcomes had provided what the market wants QILT would not exist. But as it does it’s good see its services extended. The extra $2m pa for four years will expand information on “courses, fees, admission and alternative entry processes, labour market outcomes for graduates, and employer satisfaction with the skills and work readiness of graduates.” If the existing model is maintained users will be able to compare a bunch of universities on their performance per attribute and outcome for these new information classes. And a good thing to, you can’t have anything approaching a market when consumers do not have access to comparable information about all the competitors.

Measuring VET value

UNESCO wants to know how return on investment in VET is measured. If you think that does not matter in what should be a public service you have not noticed what Universities Australia is up to. On Monday (CMM May 2) UA released modelling showing graduates create jobs and increase wages for people who do not have degrees. VET needs to make the same sort of case and the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Research is here to help. Staffers Phil Loveder and John Stanwick will host an UNESCO virtual conference next week on how nation’s manage ROI in training.

Speaks volumes

There is an extra $10m over four years for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in the budget and a cut of $8m for the VET equivalent, the Australian Skills Quality Authority. Thanks to the reader who pointed this out and unkindly suggested that given ASQA’s performance in regulating private providers losing only $8m is uncommonly generous of the Commonwealth.

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What the doctors ordered

This will come as a shock, but the medical research lobby had something positive to say about the budget – the government’s continuing commitment to the Medical Research Future Fund reaching $20bn by 2020-21. But with the fund scheduled to reach $4.7bn next financial year it is going to take some hefty deposits down the track. Lord help whoever is minister in five years time if the target is not reached. Medical research lobbies want what they want when they want it.

The inquiry we have to have

In January 2015 Nick Xenophon proposed an inquiry to find a way around the impasse of deregulation of university fees. It did not go down well, with university lobby leaders responding everybody knew what the funding problems were and what they wanted was a decision not a debate (CMM January 11 2015).

But lo, 18 months on what they have got is another inquiry. But not just any inquiry – Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s will deal with many more issues than study costs for students. It will consider the way teaching is funded, at how Canberra could pay for more professional masters, at the possibility of “flagship courses” attracting university-set premium prices, at resources for regional campuses, and whether to fund courses at non university HE providers, just for starters.

Many of the most important of these issues were raised in the 2011 Lomax Smith Base Funding Review, disgracefully ducked by then Labor education minister “Silent” Chris Evans. But the circumstances of Senator Birmingham’s inquiry mean he cannot do this. By abandoning deregulation the government leaves itself no option to present real reform to what is generally agreed is the unsustainable status quo and the higher education lobbies have no choice but to get into the endgame. That’s if the government is re-elected, if not the issues the paper proposes answering will be the first challenge for the incoming Labor minister.

Another brummie

Julie Birmingham has moved jobs in the Department of Education and Training, again. A little more than a year after taking over the HE governance, quality and access branch she is now branch manager for finance and planning.

Not such innovative ideas

You might have missed it in all the budget coverage but the Joint Select Committee on Trade and Investment Growth’s report on innovation is out. The committee considered wide ranging submissions on the divisive research and development tax incentive, which accounts for a third of the $9bn the feds will spend on science, research and innovation this financial year. It concluded that a committee of wise persons is reviewing the programme for the feds – gosh thanks.

The committee also recommended the government identify industries where “strategic research investment” could make Australia a world leader. What, like the ones covered by the six industry growth centres and the nine research priorities established when Ian Chubb was chief scientist? And it thought the Department of Education and Training should “review university-business collaboration with a view to identifying strategies which could be introduced in Australia.” Maybe the officials working on the ERA impact and engagement strategy for the Australian Research Council could get on to this when they finish that. And the report urges Treasury consider tax concessions for advanced manufacturing and/or tax breaks for income flowing from IP or patents. CMM wonders if this could be funded by abolishing the R&D deduction – and wouldn’t it be fun watching business respond to that.