But Wollongong and Curtin rocket up the rankings plus if Kim Carr was a car

Schubert on-song

Misha Schubert is the new Universities Australia comms director. Ms Schubert is a former Fairfax political correspondent and most recently with Recognise, the lobby group for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. University staff familiar with her work say this is a good appointment.

ANU June 4

Early model, goes ok-ish

Veteran policy people are emerging from the debris of the deregulation debate to start work on new policy possibilities. Some of the smartest, certainly most serious, spoke at ANU late last week, including David Phillips, principal at long established consultancy, Phillips KPA.

It was the acute, astute analysis that all who know Mr Phillips expected, which set out the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system and what can be done to build on the former and reduce the latter. Post school education, he suggested, in a metaphor meaningless to anybody not from these parts, is like a 1989 Holden VN Commodore, which has, “plenty of room for the kids, is not too expensive to run” and overall “delivers pretty good performance,” if, that is, you ignore the tinkering of decades of ministerial mechanics. “Under the bonnet the engine is looking old and modifications have produced some surprises.” In particular he pointed to the budget impact of demand driven funding and the way universities cross-subsidise research with public money per student place.

Mr Phillips went on to set offer an update of the VN that would keep it up on the road and which will probably sell to Labor and Liberal ministers in the market for motors. He suggests a seven point plan; (i) increase indirect funding for research, (ii) raise but do not remove caps on undergraduate fees and consider adjusting them as delivery modes change, (iii) alternatively, if caps go establish a progressive levy and a price justification mechanism, (iv) retain income contingent loans, (v) extend public funding to non university higher education providers on a contracted/capped fee basis, (vi) continually review demand driven funding and set criteria for new institutions to participate, and (vii) establish a single income contingent loan scheme for higher education and VET from Certificate III.

He also added a flashy optional extra, which would surely be a hard sell; “work toward a coherent tertiary education entitlement model.” So would the V for VN stand for vouchers?


If Chris and Kim were cars

David Phillips auto motif made CMM wonder what sort of vehicles politicians in the deregulation debate resemble.

Chris Pyne would be a Mustang, flashy fun for runs into the Adelaide Hills to pick goat cheese and olives but built to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Kim Carr would be a Broadmeadows-built prime-mover, hard to stop once rolling and with a horn louder than the huge engine. (And there you all were expecting a cheap joke about a Trabant).

And Lee Rhiannon would be a fixed gear bicycle.


Quality costs

ANU Librarian Roxane Missingham intends to explain to campus candides that (and I know this will come as a shock to readers) there are scholarly publishers whose journals do not have the audiences and impact they claim. (August 27 2pm Menzies Library). “With the evolution of open access, enterprises have emerged that run conferences and journals with low or no peer review or other quality mechanisms,” she says. Cynics suggest there is another way of distinguishing journals of spivery studies from the high status scholarly ones. The ones that do not pay their authors or editors but charge readers or institutions a bomb are generally the real deal.

Criterion Student-Retention

Business as usual

The National Health and Medical Research Council is getting on with business, announcing symposiums, warning of imminent deadlines and reminding applicants that using the wrong font size is a capital crime. Funnily enough, the Council has not joined just about every other research organisation in welcoming the Medical Research Future Fund.

End to ATAR inflation

Back in 2013 University of Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington belled the cat on bonus points on top of entry scores for university entry, designed to assist disadvantaged students. The system was “out of control” he told CMM (in an earlier incarnation) as he took over as chair of the state’s higher education admissions centre. Points were being added to entry scores with such abandon that it was “difficult to see what objective is achieved,” and he called on Flinders and the University of South Australia to join with UoA in doing something about it.

Which they did. From 2016 many SA schools will lose bonus point status, which will now only be allocated to what one admissions adviser calls the “desperately disadvantaged ones.”

Everybody was asked

Change agent of the day is UNSW VC Ian Jacobs who is very pleased indeed with the consultation process which shaped the imminent white paper on the 2015-2025 strategic plan, due in October. According to Professor Jacobs, there were 1179 submissions on strategic priorities and 4472 staff and 2681 students visited the green paper website. This is smart stuff indeed, when the university starts making unpopular decisions down the track nobody will be able to claim there was no consultation.

Nice Shanghai surprise for QUT

The Saturday afternoon release (Campus Morning Mail August 15) of the 2015 Academic Rankings of World Universities (formerly know as the Shanghai Jia Tong list) did not drag metrics observers away from enumerating footy stats for long, what with the way the 15th annual edition is not much different from last year.

Harvard is the world’s number one followed by Stanford, MIT and UCal Berkeley. The rest of the top ten, are from the US, except Cambridge and Oxford. The US accounts for 34 of the first 50 and close to 150 of the top 500.

As per last year, Australia has four in the top 50 but 20 in the top 500, one more than in 2014. The new arrival is QUT, which arrives in the rankings with a strong showing on publications. (But read below for the biggest achievers).

As usual, the University of Melbourne is the Australian local hero at 44, unchanged from last year. It is followed by ANU at 77, down from 74, UoQ, 77, up from 85, UWA 87 up from 88, Monash, UNSW and the University of Sydney in the 101-150 group with the University of Adelaide in the 150-200 set.

After the Group of Eight it was less a gulf than a chasm to universities in the 200-300 range, Curtin, Macquarie and Wollongong. There is then a cluster of campuses; between 300-400, Deakin, Flinders, Griffith, James Cook, Swinburne, Newcastle, Tasmania, UTS. QUT enters the elite in the 401-500 bracket.

Even with a big bunch at the backend of the top 500 over half Australia’s universities are in the global leader group.

The ARWU is the ranking of choice for research-intensive institutions being based on Nobel laureates and Field medallists among graduates and staff, academics with highly cited papers on the Thomson Reuters and publications. It assesses performance of 1200 universities around the world and reports on the top 500.

mindhive 2

First with the news

The University of Adelaide was quick to celebrate its success on Saturday, pointing out that it was the only South Australian institution to make the top 200 thanks, “to the fierce tenacity of Adelaide’s exceptional research groups.” Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington said the university intended to break the 150 barrier by 2024. It was followed by the University of Tasmania, which was pleased to be up three spots to 305. “While rankings can often rise and fall from year to year, the sustained improvement we have seen in our standing over time speaks to a real lift in the reputation of the University of Tasmania,” VC Peter Rathjen said Saturday. And Swinburne managed to tweet the “breaking news” that it was named, again! as one of the top 400 universities in the world. But that was it on the day. Word of the 24/7 media cycle has obviously not reached all university publicists.

Borrower but not a lender

Thanks to the reader of the UK Torygraph, sorry Telegraph, for the story on Birmingham City Council which spent £200m on a brand new library but is now out of dosh and asking the community to donate books to put on the shelves. They could have given an awful lot of library users e-readers and access to a bunch of digitised titles for 200 million quid.

That way madness lies

There is enough data for every university that makes the ARWU cut to spin success from the stats but looking at national top performers per category provides some sense of the standing. In discipline fields Uni Melbourne led Australia in medicine (32nd in the world) and social sciences, (49th). ANU was first in science (51-75), UNSW in engineering (41) and UWA in life sciences and agriculture (25th).

Those with the Excel inclination can also create their own customised scores on the various ARWU attributes, and CMM hopes those that do share their data with the rest of us who decided to watch the football instead.

Like Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consultant Group who crunched the ARWU data according to the weightings per category to identify movement in the bands of 100 from 200 to 500. Ms Colvin did this successfully last year  (CMM August 19 2014) and must have had a terrific time on the weekend repeating the process. She certainly points to some spectacular successes. Curtin moves up 31 places from 302 last year to 271 and Wollongong rocketed up the rankings by 66 spots to 263 – 66 spots! When added to increases the year before, Ms Colvin estimates Curtin has moved up 157 places and Curtin 91 – extraordinary improvements between 2013-15.  Increases over one year might be anomalies but these are trends.

Gates Foundation a plus for Pilbara

A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund Brisbane based Pilbara Group to undertake a major cost analysis of teaching and learning at the University of California, Riverside. This is a big win for Pilbara, which advises universities across Australia on revenues and costs. CMM understands that Pilbara will begin work this week in conjunction with subcontractor Grant Thornton.

“There is almost a complete lack of visibility on how much it actually costs to deliver post‐secondary education and how those costs compare with the outcomes achieved. Accurately measuring costs and comparing them with outcomes is one of the most important strategies that can be pursued in transforming the economics of higher education,” Pilbara’s Lea Paterson says.

The low-profile Pilbara principals are a tight-knit team of data modellers who learned their craft working on project cost models in the Royal Australian Navy. They are also associated with a founder of the emerging discipline of education productivity analysis, Bill Massy of Stanford. Project champion at Riverside is Maria Anguiano, a former Gates Foundation advisor and now the university’s planning and budget chief.

The Pilbara Project at Riverside will run a 16 stage process covering revenue and cost structures, identifying course costs, attributes and delivery requirements, all leading to installation of an academic cost performance management system.

The project is intended to help contain tuition costs by identifying efficiencies in course delivery, demonstrating how staff can make best use of time and demonstrating to university management how, or if, existing practice delivers institutional objectives.