Plus: finally a ranking that measures student outcomes not academic opinions

The right questions

The National Tertiary Education Union has launched what will be an annual survey for all staff at every university. This is a spectacularly smart step – one that will be very useful indeed whenever the union is cross with a specific university management. And with two or three issues complete by the next enterprise bargaining round it will help shape campus claims.

Inevitably the survey reflects the union’s agenda; pay, conditions, staff rights, conditions for casuals feature. And it may, or may not, reflect community opinion at a university, being completed by self-selectors – comradely questions about the importance of unions assume responders are true believers. But at least the NTEU had a go at providing balance. Multiple-choice questions about deregulating student fees do not ask respondents, as CMM expected, if it is (a) “the work of the devil,” (b) “Christopher Pyne’s policy” or (c) “you mean the latter is not the former?” Overall this is a survey to suit the NTEU but it will provide information managements need to see, before the results appear in a dispute meeting.


University of Anywhere

The University of Western Australia has released the video for its “pursue impossible” campaign. It presents a young woman sprinting across all sorts of cities and landscapes (although she seems especially fond of Manhattan). But when she runs out of puff everything freezes. “When we stop moving forward the world stops with us. So chase your dream, it’s only impossible till it’s done” an authoritative male voice announces. And so she picks up the pace and races off into the distance as the UWA logo appeared.

It could have been a running shoe logo, or a soft drink campaign, or an advert for a university anywhere. Is there nothing specific about UWA that its marketers want to promote?

New money for tropical medicine

No budget leaks could be bad news (no new money) or very bad news (a diabolical new Pyne plan) – whatever happens tonight however it seems Trade Minister Andrew Robb could not contain himself and has announced $15m for tropical health research to be allocated by the National Health and Medical Research Council. This appears to be new money. Yes James Cook U picked up $21m in the last budget but that came from the Australian Research Council. Yesterday JCU was very impressed with the minister’s wisdom and stating it would apply for the new funds. That the university is mentioned in Mr Robb’s announcement might be a hint that they should do well. So why is the trade minister spending the health minister’s money? Mr Robb has carriage of the forthcoming white paper on developing northern Australia.

ANU new 4

“No bears” Bowman on the prowl

The endlessly energetic Scott “no bears” Bowman has plans for his CQU across the continent and told Western Australian senator Zhenya Wang all about them in Canberra yesterday. The university now has study centres for distance students in Perth, Geraldton and Karratha. Senator Wang is a fan of innovative universities and was the most sympathetic of the Palmer United Party senators to the Pyne package but stuck to the party line. Now he is the PUP party in the upper house perhaps he is more inclined to listen to advocates of deregulation like Professor Bowman. But I doubt Kim Carr , who the VC also met yesterday, is. Instead Professor Bowman got to hear about Labor’s coming policy. The VC spent the rest of yesterday stalking the corridors of power (and other parts of Parliament House as well as the Senate wing) talking to all sorts of people, including Christopher Pyne. Can’t imagine what they would have talked about

Worth a big VET bet

In the search for sales the international education industry focuses on streamlining visas, improving student experience and developing new markets but there never seems as much interest in creating new products. So hurrah for Training Minister Simon Birmingham, who suggests Australia can generate new business from existing expertise in VET. Senator Birmingham points to India and China’s need to expand skilled workforces. The Indian government wants half a billion skilled workers, which means the country needs 70 000 new trainers now and 20 000 new ones each coming year. As China switches from an export to domestic demand driven economy it is expanding its VET system. And South Korea is starting to look at training for the 24 per cent of young people who are neither in work nor education. But while the market for Australian training packages offshore is obvious the first challenge is to adapt content to market demands. Easier said than done, Australia’s training system is tough enough to negotiate here, imagine trying to navigate it through state and federal Indian bureaucracies. But in-country training is surely such a big VET bet it is worth having a go.

ASQA’s big chance

By week’s end the Australian Skills Quality Authority should have regulatory power to fine and ultimately deregister training organisations. Be interesting to see how ASQA goes with its new ability to protect people from spivs seeking to enrol them in unsuitable courses they can’t afford. Last week (CMM May 5) the agency stepped up to the for-profit industry image crisis by reporting that it had written to training organisations – as overdue as it appeared ineffectual.

First order information

While the commercial rankers still slug it out for advertising share policy marketers have started to fill the vast gap in the market for educational intel that is unoccupied by the one-to-100 league tables. U-Multirank provides performance comparisons for similar institutions, albeit its search results can range from the incomprehensible to the eccentric. But now the Brookings Institute has produced a US performance guide based on student economic outcomes that includes community colleges, where most Americans study. Some of the measures that make up the analysis are far from specific (graduate earnings for disciplines an institution teaches, for example) but others are, such as college completion time compared to category average and per centage of graduates in a STEM discipline.

Overall Brookings found institutions can make a major difference which has nothing necessarily to do with status. “Financial aid and other less precisely measured student support programs can dramatically boost graduation rates and thus future student success. A college’s curriculum, its mix of majors, and its provision of specific skills all strongly predict alumni earnings potential. College-specific data on these dimensions of quality can be used to learn about, evaluate, and improve college performance.”

This is an immensely valuable tool for prospective students needing to decide where to study, not least because it demonstrates colleges that deliver on actual outcomes not images aren’t inevitably the expensive big brands. Inevitably critics will find fault with the methodology but as the Brookings Institute is too polite to point out, most of the US college tables were not created with a super-computer. “While the results here may fail to meet an ideal standard for social science research, they can be compared favourably to existing college rankings,” the report suggests.

The people building the new quality indicators for learning and teaching site for Education Minister Chris Pyne should have a look at the Brookings report – so should all the league table providers.