UA also sinks flagship courses

plus big blue in the NTEU

and Navitas a billion dollar business

On track

Careers Australia CEO Walter Gilmore yesterday tweeted “Aus School of Management new campus”. The accompanying pic was a Melbourne tram. Good to see nothing being wasted on expensive accommodation.


Rooms of their own

On Monday ANU VC Brian Schmidt promised to improve the on-campus experience for the thousands of students who live there, or want to (there was a 1500 bed shortfall in 2015). Last night ANU explained how it will start to happen. The university has signed a 30-year concession on its student housing with investment manager H L Morrison, representing clients Infratil and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The university will still manage the properties with rents continuing to be set at a maximum of 75 per cent of market rates. The deal involves “a substantial upfront payment” to ANU (the amount is unspecified) which will go to paying down debt, and student facilities and services.

The deal covers Burton & Garran Hall, Graduate House, Toad Hall, Ursula Hall, Davey Lodge, Lena Karmel Lodge, Kinloch Lodge and Warrumbul Lodge plus a residence now being built.

UA’s pragmatic proposals

Universities Australia has stamped its authority on the higher education community’s response to Simon Birmingham’s discussion paper. UA’s reply does not retreat from core positions, extending demand driven places to sub degree programmes (“subject to budget affordability”), rejecting cuts to Commonwealth support per student (“a defensible case has not been made”) and demanding a five-year timetable for increased funding of indirect costs of research. But it also accepts the possibility of, “careful design of any policies intended to improve retention, completion and employment outcomes for undergraduates” and “reasonable design amendments” to ensure the student loan scheme sustainably meets its objectives.

Thus UA accepts an increase in course costs met by some students “consistent with the underpinning ‘fairness’ principles.” It supports, “a moderate reduction in the repayment threshold, with lower repayment rates below the existing threshold” and backs “adjustments to upper repayments and a modest increase in the repayment rate for high income earners.”

But what is especially significant is the carefully understated acknowledgement that universities have to step up on student outcomes in a mass system, with UA referring to its members’ “accountability for student outcomes”. With the Australian Technology Network and the Innovative Research Universities both stating much the same there is now an effective admission that universities need to address attrition and graduate outcomes. It is a statement the minister will welcome and one that will help UA counter arguments that DDF has led to too many people without appropriate aspirations and ability enrolling in higher education.

However UA makes no case for compromise on Minister Birmingham’s proposal that universities could set their own fees for flagship courses. This much-opposed plan was already sinking but UA has now blown it out of the water.

“While some members have indicated a preparedness to further explore the concept of ‘flagship’ courses, for example, in relation to unique or particularly innovative courses, the majority oppose the proposal on the basis of implementation complexity, the likelihood of perverse outcomes, the potential to devalue existing degrees and the potential creation of a ‘two tier’ system.”

Wed July 27


Arriving at ANSTO

Margaret Sheil and Brigid Heywood have joined the ANSTO board. Professor Sheil is provost at Melbourne University before which appointment she was head of the Australian Research Council and DVC R at the University of Wollongong. Professor Heywood is DVC R at the University of Tasmania.

NTEU blue

Leaders of Victorian university branches of the National Tertiary Education Union are defying state secretary Colin Long in the election for officials now underway. Dr Long has endorsed Josh Cullinan who is running for assistant secretary. However officials from RMIT, Monash, Federation U, La Trobe, Victoria U, UniMelb and Deakin U are urging members to put Mr Cullinan last on their ballots. “The NTEU has a proud tradition of political independence – we are not aligned to any political organisation – and of being run by the membership for the membership.  This election has placed the NTEU at the crossroads of what kind of organisation we want to be,” they say in a message to members.

Mr Cullinan was central to the prolonged and bitter dispute at Swinburne University over the enterprise agreement finally adopted a year back. A former CFMEU activist, Mr Cullinan took on the powerful Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association earlier this year over an agreement with supermarket giant Coles which is widely considered to have disadvantaged some union members.

According to Dr Long, Mr Cullinan is “a senior NTEU leader … with a formidable reputation in our sector.” However RMIT union president Melissa Slee, Tony Lad from Monash U and the other officials say Mr Cullinan “has never worked in the university sector.” “We believe that the key role of assistant state secretary must be held by a university staff member,” they state. Ms Slee and Mr Lad are both candidates in the election for the unpaid assistant state secretary post.

“That’s a view with strong support,” a close watcher of the union says, “I am sick of the central office pushing their ‘mates’ to represent me and my colleagues, an RMIT staffer wrote Dr Long yesterday. However this fight is bigger than a blue over Mr Cullinan’s experience in universities. Dr Long is keen to concentrate resources in the state branch while many campus-based activists prefer to keep control of their own campaigns. His leading critics, Ms Slee and Mr Lad, are both running for the assistant secretary position.


Cash for chemistry

The Academy of Science will fund two early career researchers to attend the 67th meeting of Nobel laureates (chemists this year) in Lindau Germany next June. The grant is worth $6250 and you can apply here.

Big bucks for Navitas

The for-profit education provider cracked $1bn in revenues last financial year but with earnings from university partnerships down marginally, which the company attributes to the end of its contact with Macquarie U earlier this year. The company recorded a $90m net profit, well up on last year’s $71.8m

Overall EBITDA was up by 1 per cent to $164.5m with “underlying” university partnership enrolments up by 11 per cent for the ANZAC division, 10 per cent for the US and down 14 per cent in the UK. “Including closing colleges” EFTs dropped by 13 per cent in Australia and New Zealand and 8 per cent overall. The company expects 2017 EBITDA to be in line with this result, which is what it predicted last year.

Navitas is also to have a new chair. Former UWA business dean Tracey Horton will step up to replace Harvey Collins, on the board since 2004 and chair for a decade.

Uni Adelaide can’t lose

The shortlists for the South Australian science awards are out with the three candidates for scientist of the year all from the University of Adelaide. They are Jennifer Couper (paediatric endocrinologist), James Paton (molecular biologist) and Alan Cooper (geneticist). The early career nominees are all from UniAdelaide as well; Kieren Mitchell (DNA sequencing), Phiala Shanahan (theoretical particle physics) and Kristin Carson (treatment of tobacco related illness and cessation).


Lockheed Martin lands at UniMelb

Defence giant Lockheed Martin will establish a $13m research centre on the University of Melbourne campus. It will work on a range of defence technologies but sadly there is no mention of research to contain costs and improve effectiveness of the company’s much criticised and hugely expensive F-35 fighter plane. Which is a shame, Australia is buying 72 for a mere $15bn.