The university says it will offer 80 courses online

What a surprise! Labor and the Greens denounce the Birmingham bill

plus, Deakin’s virtual OD delight: affable Alfred would have thought it magic

and, Demand driven funding: less is more while more is less (more or less)

True Confession

“I worked as the Paddle Pop Lion while I was studying,” a CQU graduate reveals. Presumably as a pre-req for Humphrey B Bear studies.

Split decision

The Senate Committee inquiry on the government’s higher education legislation has reported, thrice

Government, Labor and Green senators reported on the Birmingham package last night, with none adding anything to their previously well-known positions.

Committee chair Bridget McKenzie (Nationals, Victoria) backed the bill.

Labor senators, Gavin Marshall and Jacinta Collins knocked just about everything back, including;

Efficiency dividend: “these cuts will put at risk teaching-intensive university campuses, particularly those in the regions, and have the potential to cost jobs.”

Performance funding: “Labor is concerned that ‘reserving 7.5 per cent of C(ommonwealth)G(rant)S(cheme) funding for performance funding has the risk of being too punitive and risks the financial viability of some universities. Labor is also concerned about drafting of this provision, which leaves almost ‘total discretion’ for the minister to distribute funding for universities.”

Postgraduate vouchers: “the proposal in this bill is poorly thought through, and Labor Senators cannot support it in its current form.”

Sub-bachelor places: “Labor supports, in principle, the extension of the demand-driven funding system to sub-bachelor places at universities, but we have very strong concerns about the impact this measure could have on TAFE.”

Enabling courses: “Labor strongly opposes the imposition of fees and tendering out.”

The Greens argued the bill was wrong, wrong, wrong:

“The Turnbull Government’s proposal to cut funding to the university sector, as part of a budget saving measure, forcing students to pay more for what would be a lesser-value degree does not foster a clever and innovative country. There is a direct link between the decreasing access to education, particularly secondary and higher education and the level of growing inequality.

But the people whose opinions matter most have not been heard, what with no cross bench senators attending the two days of hearings on the bill. The argument with the potential to get some of the bill passed begins now.

Good on Goodin

ANU announces elite honour

Bob Goodin has received ANU’s Peter Baume award, the university’s highest honour. Professor Goodin is recognised for research and writing, demonstrated by 15 books in philosophy and political science. The award is named for former VC Peter Baume. Previous recipients include biologist Susan von Caemmerer former ARC chair and now University of Queensland provost Aidan Byrne and ANU VC Brian Schmidt.

UniSA goes big in digital delivery

The University of South Australia is expanding on-line

UniSA is storming into the distance education space with 80 qualifications in 20 disciplines. Some are UniSA programmes via Open Universities Australia but it appears most courses are only available by UniSA.

“New in 2018, UniSA Online builds on a strong tradition of distance and online learning at the university and our new online degrees will provide a far greater range of options using the very latest in online teaching technologies,” a university representative told CMM las night.

The university commits to courses that are “specifically designed for online learning” supported by “seven days a week online student support.”

“There is no need to come onto campus, all assessments 100 per cent online,” the university assures prospective students.

Course costs vary with some programmes offering Commonwealth Supported Places while others are full-fee, with some grad dips listed at $25 000.

The university will provide “a peek into our brand new 100% online degrees,” at Sunday week’s Open Day.

Flinders hires new CIO

Kerrie Campbell will move from the University of Adelaide to become Chief Information Officer at Flinders U. She will lead “the newly reshaped” Information and Digital Services Division from next month.

Detailing what Labor loathes

But Tanya Plibersek nails the concession the government is most likely to make

Ten hours before a Senate committee reported (above) Labor’s education spokesman confirmed yesterday what did not need confirming. Tanya Plibersek told Fran Kelly on Radio National that the Opposition opposes reductions in Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for universities and lowering the repayment threshold for the HELP student loan programme.

She also signalled Labor will block the government’s proposal that vice chancellors fear most; making 7.5 per cent of CGS funding contestable on the basis of yet to be determined performance metrics, describing it as “a $500 million slush fund that the minister will take from universities to redistribute at will, taking us back to the bad old days, for example, where John Howard said he wasn’t going to increase university funding unless universities insisted on Australian Workplace Agreements for their staff.” The government will kick-up at “distribute at will,” pointing out that money any universities lose will go to others in the system but this is still a great line which will play well to the staff-student coalition opposing the legislation. Whether cross bench senators will listen to this, or prefer the government’s explanation that the metrics are intended to improve performance on enrolments, completion and employment outcomes is another question.

But Ms Plibersek nailed another issue where even cross bench senators prepared to consider the cuts will want change – the proposal to change enabling courses from a load to loan basis. “We know that people who are the first in their family to attend university often don’t have the confidence to roll up on day one and say I’d like to enrol in a four-year degree. These courses are a pathway out of poverty,” she said. A pathway people will not take if it involves a deferred loan.

If there is a part of the package the government could offer as a concession this is it.

Why it’s called “gold open access”

How generous is for-profit publisher Taylor and Francis

T&F has a deal for academics at partner universities which means they can publish in gold open access (authors pay but reading is free) at either no cost or “much reduced article publishing charges.” Yes, Taylor and Francis may charge authors or their institutions less to publish scholarship they get for free. Researchers at Victoria U qualify for this munificence.

Open Day of the day

Affable Alfred would love it

Visitors to Deakin U’s Open Day will get to pursue Pixel the robot across a virtual campus, before having to escape a wired laboratory, (apparently, those who know about such things call it a VR escape room). The experience follows an award winning “VR activation” at 2015 open days and “is in alignment with Deakin’s vision of driving the digital frontier.”

Alfred Deakin, the early 20th century PM and paranormal investigator, for whom the university is named would love it, given Clarke’s Third Law holds “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

You can pursue Pixel at Deakin ODs at the Geelong campus (August 20) and Burwood (August 27).

Not staying at UNSW

Last month UNSW was very pleased to announce Amir Mireskandari was moving to Kensington from M&C Saatchi, what with his being “one of the few people in the sector who has run teams across digital, broadcast and print.” But Mr Mireskandari isn’t staying at UNSW, having to relocate overseas due to a family issue. However, he will “help by UNSW by working on projects for three months.”

Davis steps up at Melbourne’s GSE

Larissa McLean Davis is the new associate dean for learning and teaching at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. Associate Professor Davis is also chief investigator of a current ARC study on the role of literary studies in the early careers of school teachers of English.

In uni funding more is less, unless it’s more

It was always going to come to this

Universities Australia has added to its evidence before the Senate committee on the government’s higher education funding cuts; expanding its case that the government’s claim that base funding will be higher in real terms than in 2009, “misses the point.”

But yesterday other figures were floating along Senate corridors. These showed warnings intended for Nick Xenophon and his South Australian senate colleagues that the state’s universities will take a cut are dead-set deluded. According to these numbers, Flinders U will be up over the forward estimates by 21 per cent, University of Adelaide by 12 per cent and University of South Australia by 20 per cent.

There are cases for both, which began to be built in September 2011 when demand driven funding of undergraduate enrolments passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

UA argues the government’s package is “explicitly and deliberately designed to reduce resourcing per place below current levels.” The government’s response is that headline funding will stay up over-time as unis enrol more students

The universities and their allies say this ignores the fact that the state is transferring education costs to students and lowers funding per head available to teach them.

The government reply is that universities are in surplus, which response stays the same when universities point to increasing costs.

UA has a poultice of policy detail that supports its case. The government points to positive P&Ls for universities, thanks to the government funding them to enrol as many students as they choose. “Surely (universities) have some capacity to apply some economies of scale and efficiencies,” Minister Birmingham told an Australian Industry Group audience yesterday.

Which side wins will depend on what figures convince cross bench senators, notably Senator Xenophon and his two upper house colleagues.