Plus pressure off demand driven funding

Governor General engineers Monash enthusiasm

And But which Y?

Higher HECS will be back sooner than the Terminator but at least fewer loans growth will slow

 Judgement day delayed

He’ll be back – but not as soon as we might think. Uni Adelaide academics Maciej Henneberg and Aurthur Saniotis suggest, “the advent of brain-machine interfaces may force humans to redefine where our humanity lies; it will blur the boundary between human and machine.” They explain all in their new book, being launched today at the university’s Barr Smith Library. But friends of Sarah Connor should chill, terminators are not imminent, “the human mind is not a logical machine, it is a product of organic interactions. That complexity should not be underestimated,” Dr Saniotis says.


Less demand delights

In good news for supporters of demand driven funding, the great expansion in undergraduate numbers appears to have ended. New figures from the Department of Education and Training show applications up 1.9 per cent in 2016 on 2015. Unique offers of undergraduate places increased by 1.2 per cent. * This, Universities Australia is quick to point out, brings demand into line with population growth. “This is further evidence that the initial surge of ‘unmet demand’ for a university education has been steadily absorbed in the first few years of the shift to a demand-driven system … thereby easing financial pressure on the system,” chief executive Belinda Robinson says. This will go some way to defusing concerns that demand driven funding will continue to increase the cost to Canberra.

UA was also anxious to advise there is no decline in entry standards, another assumption common among critics of DDF. Some 81 per cent of applicants via tertiary admission centres received an offer, marginally down on 2015. But despite weekend attempts to confect a crisis, there is no explosion in offers to applicants with ATARS under 50, which grew from 1.6 per cent to just 4.4 per cent between 2012 and this year.

Yes, some 48 per cent of people with low ATARs applying were accepted by a university and the overall academic standard of entrants is cloaked by the 80 000 successful applications direct to universities (compared to 270 000 via TAC’s). However UA argues entry scores should not alarm anybody, completion rates are what matters and attrition has not changed since 2005. “This suggests that even as access to university has been opened to more educationally disadvantaged students than ever before, admissions processes continue to be able to identify students capable of attaining a degree,” Ms Robinson says.

* This excludes the artificial impact of the WA half cohort, which results from the state splitting school starts in 2003, with children whose birthdays were in the first half of the year starting then and those in July-December in 2004. It led to a one-off fall in applications in 2015 and resulting rise this year.

App of the day

The Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living has created an app, “designed to support and promote businesses that have reduced their carbon footprint.” It is being piloted by 30 businesses in the Blue Mountains of NSW, which is about as green as it gets.


Building magic

Want to sell engineering to idealists? Give them a copy of the Governor General’s graduation address the other day to Monash graduating engineers.

“I have closely observed Australian engineers translate exquisitely-detailed, professional, even arcane work, into community outcomes, often well beyond the average person’s capacity to understand or interest but entirely within their expectations that by some ‘magic, the dam, the highway, the light rail, the shopping complex, or the sporting stadium would appear according to a plan, on time and of course within budget—social wealth was created!” General Cosgrove said.

“The work of engineers is enormously difficult and complex. All manner of challenges natural, man-made, sometimes heaven sent, stand in your path. Sometimes you may feel like the wheel on the road, (commonplace, repetitive, abraded by the journey.) Sometimes you may feel like a spoke in the wheel (important for progress but eternally supporting just a part of the national wheel.) But to so many without the opportunity which you have now seized, who have not the professional skill you have now attained, perhaps with not the energy you have now demonstrated, you are the hub.”

It was a great speech – somebody needs to ask the GG to deliver another one to inspire young woman to enter the profession – and stay in it. Which they don’t. While women engineers grew from 20 000 to 35 000 in the two decades from the early ‘90s the number working in the profession actually fell fractionally, due the Workplace Productivity Agency attributed to “persistence of gendered roles and expectations by managers and colleagues,” CMM November 18 2014).

HECS hike to come

Simon Birmingham is playing a blinder of an election campaign, as in nobody is paying any attention to higher education – which after the “$100K degree” claims that destroyed Christopher Pyne’s deregulation plan is exactly how the government wants it. But this will not last long after the vote, whichever side wins. In Friday’s treasurers debate between Scott Morrison and Chris Bowen the terms of engagement changed, with both acknowledging the need for budget savings. Standby for a hike in HECs after we vote.

DIGITAL MARKETING Strategies for Higher Education

Market responds

The market has responded to years of warnings of an oversupply of teachers with an 8.3 per cent drop in applications this year, according to new figures from the Department of Education (above). Indicating education faculties have responded to popular concerns at the academic standard of undergraduates the acceptance rate is down by 12 per cent. However some 79 per cent of applicants were offered a place, down 3.7 per cent.

Future focused

Last week the Group of Eight spoke up for an improved ATAR as a transparent means of university entry in its submission to the Higher Education Standards Panel’s standards inquiry, CMM May 26). And now the Innovative Research Universities points that relying on the ATAR is archaic, dating from the days when demand for university places exceeded supply. “The applicant’s relative merit compared with other applications has become less important; whether the applicant is capable of the course more important.” And as for older individuals admitted on the basis of aptitude, other qualifications and perceived ability; “they may well have a Year 12 certificate but these results are largely irrelevant to the current capacity for university study.” The IRU also accepts that all measures of assessment should be transparent but, “ultimately it is what a person will do next that should matter: university is not a reward for previous study but about the person gaining a new body of knowledge and associated skills.”

A different conversation

Publisher Private Media has a proposal for a higher education equivalent of it’s online product for public servants, The Mandarin. Word is the publisher is asking universities for underwriting and content of a policy kind, presumably as distinct from the research stories and opinion pieces the university-funded The Conversation runs.

What’s in a name

In another age Anne-Wil Harzing would have broken Enigma codes as a warm-up for the day’s work but now the Middlesex U (ex Uni Melbourne) researcher lights up the darker paths of research metrics as a scholarly hobby. Dark paths like that which leads to the most productive researcher in TR’s Essential Science Indicators, one Y Wang who Professor Harzing finds has published 100 papers in each of 73 research area.

The problem is that in China and Korea a small number of family names makes using first monikers essential to identify individuals and just “Y” does not cut it. This is tough for the thousands of individuals who publish as Y Wang, because they are hard for editors and other researchers to find. It isn’t easy for everybody else either; “academics with unique names, who cannot ‘compete’ with the super-authors created by the amalgamation of many namesakes, and are thus ranked much lower in the list of highly cited authors than they should have been.” “It is,” Professor Harzing suggests, “high time that Thomson Reuters starts taking name disambiguation and non Anglophone names more seriously.”


FT for purpose

QUT and the Melbourne Business School are the only Australian entries on the Financial Times league table of institutions providing customised (non degree) business education. MBS is ranked 35th, down from 24 last year and QUT is ranked 71st from 85, down from 63rd. The MBS (41st) and the UNSW Business School (49th) make the cut for the FT’s list of open enrolment courses.

Open-ish access

In another open-access initiative the Dutch are using their turn as EU chair to decree publicly funded research must be free to read by 2020. The Netherlands research minister, Sander Dekker, is a long-time open access advocate. But free to read does not necessarily mean the taxpayer is not slugged. Mr Dekker is a long-time advocate of the publishing industry’s preferred gold open access model, which charges researchers, or their institutions, to publish in journals.