Plus US News rankings: as American as a mail order machine gun

Don’s gone

Chris Pyne’s higher education advisor Don Markwell has a new permanent home. He briefly moved into Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s office but yesterday emailed supporters to say he is now senior advisor to Attorney General and government senate leader George Brandis. However Dr Markwell’s interest in education remains; he was on a panel yesterday discussing “the seven habits of highly successful leaders in international education” at the Australian International Education Conference in Adelaide.

UniMelb bushfire

Glover takes the high ground

Universities Australia president Barney Glover will call on political parties to back higher education in the national interest in a speech to the National Press Club today. And he will demand an end to the “legislative impasse” which “has effectively left the nation’s third-largest export industry and leading service export without a structural and strategic vision for the coming decades. Worse, we are effectively in funding limbo … this kind of instability is simply intolerable.

The WSU VC will also set out “eight fundamental principles” needed to “ensure greatest return on investment” from university funding.

They include open access for all Australians with the ability to complete a degree, irrespective of cost and “sufficient, sustainable and predictable,” resources, “to enable universities to deliver on the expectations of students, employers, the community and governments.

Professor Glover will argue that a properly resourced higher education system is fundamental to prosperity in fast changing times.

“We are in a period of profound change and with it, social, economic and environmental transformation. It touches us all. Whether we successfully navigate these waters will depend in no small part on our recognition as a nation of the economic, social and cultural contribution our universities can make. It will also depend on the willingness of our political leaders to agree that support for universities is vital to the national interest.”

In return, he will say, universities can drive the economy. “It is the responsibility of Australia’s universities to ensure that we ask the right questions; map new paths; share the knowledge we have; nurture inquiring minds; and, in-turn build critical thinking. These characteristics are at the heart of our serving the public interest. This is what we do. This is what we have always done. Notwithstanding the recognised private benefit that might accrue to individual students, universities have a public purpose.”

Professor Glover’s text does not address resources and positions UA above the funding debate Education Minister Simon ‘softly softly’ Birmingham calls for.

Floor plan of the future

Scott “focus” Holmes is telling UWS business school colleagues that their flash digs at the new Parramatta CBD high-rise campus will be where they reshape their school’s future. (CMM, yesterday). However some staff are worried by talk of no dedicated desks, an open plan layout, with academics and professional staff on separate floors – and no offices.

ANU Sept 15

Competitive countries

The World Economic Forum competitiveness rankings for 2015 are out, including the annual assessment of higher education by business executives in 140 countries. On a scale of one to seven Australian universities rated 5.1 “for meeting the needs of a competitive economy” which is great compared to the big two on the commercial rankings, the UK (4.7) and US (4.8). But who we are behind is especially interesting – Singapore in the global number one (5.8) with Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Malaysia the Netherlands and New Zealand all at 5.4. Yes, this is all perception based but how education systems are perceived by opinion leaders shapes their standing – its why the ranking agencies are in business.

Perceptions of the state of STEM in Aus higher educ are less positive. At 4.8 we are again ahead of the Brits (4.4) and US (4.5) but who we trail matters more. Singapore’s investment in education again shows with a world-leading 6.4, Hong Kong is at 5.5, New Zealand 5.3 and Taiwan and Germany are both on 5.2.

Australia is a bit further back in the pack on business schools. The Swiss lead at 6.3 followed by the UK (5.9), Singapore (5.9), US (5.7), Canada (5.8), the Netherlands and US at (5.7) and Australia at 5.3

However the survey shows Australia as especially strong on the quality of scientific research. We trail the Swiss (6.4), the UK (6.3), Israel (6.2) US (6.1) and the Netherlands but at 5.8 Australian science is seen as level pegging with the Germans on 5.8

UA on-song

Universities Australia releases its new campaign, Fund our Future today. Here’s the message; “Australia’s universities generate the ideas that create the jobs and industries of tomorrow. They boost our productivity and contribute around $140 billion to our economy – far more than they receive in funding. Yet Australia’s public investment in universities now ranks 24 out of 25 advanced economies. If we don’t invest now, we’ll put the nation’s economic future at risk. There’s never been a more important time to Fund our Future.” Setting it to music will be a challenge but the message is certainly on-song with UA’s strategy.

RMIT grinds on

VET teachers at RMIT are striking tomorrow over what the National Tertiary Education Union calls the university’s “appalling handling” of enterprise bargaining, underway for two years without a result. Swinburne U’s record for the longest dispute over employment conditions might not last long.


ASQA is the issue

Greens education spokesman Senator Robert Simms (SA) is urging the government give greater powers to the Australian Skills Quality Authority to pursue crook for-profit VET providers, “ASQA is currently helpless in the fight to regulate these private colleges,” Senator Simms says. Given ASQA’s track record, it certainly seems that way, but its resources aren’t all of the issue. Education Minister Simon “softly softly” Birmingham beefed up the agency’s authority and resources in the budget, with more powers and an extra $68m to regulate the system and yet reports of rorts roll on.

Ronald McMurdoch

Murdoch University will host an outdoor cinema season this season sponsored by McDonalds. Yes, that McDonalds – ye gods! MU will be buying coal shares next.

Not quite a perfect score

Labor should have scored a perfect score on the Glover Eight Point Plan for National Success yesterday what with Bill Shorten saying;

We’ve got the best policy, everyone knows that. We are proposing a funding guarantee, a minimum-funding guarantee, which will restore all the dreadful cuts that the Liberals are putting into higher education. … We want to put downward pressure on the price of going to university. We want to increase the quality of the university experience and ensure more students complete, we want to make sure that research is well funded and we want to make sure that people who come from backgrounds where there their families have had less chance to go to university get to university.”

The problem is Labor’s Kim Carr also wants to; “restore funding to the regulators and we want to have a higher education commission (which) amongst its many tasks will be to ensure that the quality of our university education is improved and the people that go to university get a better deal when they are there.”

“We are saying to the universities, we want you to be more responsive to your local communities. We want you to acknowledge that there are national priorities. We need more engineers in this country. We need more women in engineering. We’ve got to make sure that our university system doesn’t just enroll people, we’re got to make sure our university system is ensuring that students are successful.”

CMM wonders how this rates on Professor Glover’s seventh point; “universities should be autonomous, self-accrediting institutions with responsibility for their own affairs.”

Exit OLT

CMM will not miss the Office of Learning and Teaching, basically because there was never much to report, given the way it never seemed keen on promoting the research it funded. This may be why Ross Milbourne’s recommendations for the successor institution includes, a requirement that its director, have “proven skills in communicating with and influencing relevant stakeholders.”

Professor Milbourne’s report for the feds on the role and structure of the new National Institute for Learning and Teaching makes it clear that the work of the OLT is highly regarded but he also states that even among it’s community, research it supported was not widely enough known, “thus hindering the embedding of outcomes and impact.”

And buried in the report is a scathing assessment of what many researchers thought it existed to do;

“the definition of impact is not well understood in the sector. Some of those in the consultation process regarded the government investment in learning and teaching as primarily a grants process designed to support their academic careers, and viewed this as the major outcome to be achieved. This shows up in those grants which had limited impact – those projects shared limited scope, weak links to student experience and a weak dissemination plan.”

Professor Milboure also proposes a much more public role for the new National Institute. “It should foster collaborative initiatives between institutions, foster networks and engagement both domestically and internationally, have very strong communication and dissemination roles …”

As to a mission, Professor Milbourne suggests “enlightenment is provided by the original intention of the Carrick Institute.” No not the private VET College, the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, established by Brendan Nelson, education minister in the 27th Howard Government in 2004. The more names change …

Tour de fish

“Are fish the greatest athletes on the planet?” James Cook U asks in a research promoting release. According to Dr Jodie Rummer they are far more effective than humans at releasing oxygen to tissue. Pity bicycle racing isn’t a water sport.

ANU Sep 15 3

American as a mail order machine gun

The US News and World Report university league tables are not enormously well regarded by rankings scholars, but they are as American as a mail order machine gun – which maybe why the new “best global universities ranking,” is so, well, American. Of the world’s top 25 universities, 20 are from the US, with all the others being British or Canadian. The first entrant from the rest of the world is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at 27th. As for Australia, well what a surprise, the first entry is the University of Melbourne in 40th place. Of course the USNWR analysts only go where the evidence allows, which must make their domestic audience feel very pleased that the nation is in such great education shape.