Birmingham names cashed-up campuses

plus the government’s big plans for improved teaching


Slowly flows the Murray Darling med school proposal


Convicted scientist leaves RMIT


and the five eyes of uni workplace relations meet to share intel



Fit for purpose

Tomorrow is University Mental Health Day, with participating institutions encouraging staff to get some exercise because people who do “enjoy better mental health, are more alert, and are more resilient against the stresses of modern living.” The Monash programme is a good example of what is going on.

More like medicine

Although a review of teaching cost by field of education is set to go (below) leaders of high-cost disciplines have made their case they need more money now. Dentistry and veterinary sciences are expected to receive a hike in funding per student, to bring public support closer to the cost of delivery, as occurs in medicine.

Five eyes of IR

University HR experts will hold their conference in Sydney this week. Over the next couple of days delegates from the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, will discuss “the university workforce of the future.” Making this the educ equivalent of the Anglosphere “five eyesintelligence sharing community, locals are joined by speakers from the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.

There are issues on the agenda which will shape enterprise bargaining now underway, notably the future for casual staff, managing changing types of academic employment, including teaching-only appoints and a “consistent and fair approach to promotion and career progression.”  A discussion of “the university of the future” will also pack them in.

Among a mass of low-profile, deep-expertise speakers just two VCs are on the agenda. As president of AHEIA Charles Sturt U’s Andrew Vann unsurprisingly presents the big picture plenary but the other is intriguing – Steve Chapman, who arrived from Scotland to run Edith Cowan U just a couple of years back. Last month Professor Chapman also represented the WA VCs in a general policy discussion with union activists (CMM March 20).

Birmingham sets new accountability requirements

Universities will be called to account for the efficiency of teaching and presentation of undergraduate entry requirements in new measures to be announced today by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.  And anticipating university complaints of under-funding to meet new requirements he will also release details of their financial performance.

The minister will brief higher education leaders on these initiatives at a Canberra meeting tonight where university chiefs speculate there could be more to come.

“Universities have a vital role to play in Australia but many mums and dads are feeling the pinch of tighter budgets at home and want to know their tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently. Universities need to invest taxpayer money judiciously and with appropriate public scrutiny and accountability. Ultimately, both Governments and universities operate with a social licence granted by taxpayers,” Senator Birmingham said this morning.

in the money: “Funding for our universities is at record levels, but it has grown above and beyond the costs of their operations,” Senator Birmingham will tell his audience tonight. The claim is supported by federal government figures presenting the majority of universities as being in less good than rude financial health. The figures (at the end of this issue) show the public system produced a 5.3 per cent profit margin on turnover of $28.6bn in 2015 (up from $21.5bn, ex VET in 2010). Just eight from 38 public HE institutions, made a loss, including three which were in the red by less than one per cent. Only three institutions did not meet the Department of Education and Training’s 0.75 current ratio benchmark (current assets divided by current liabilities, ex those not due for over 12 months).

cost of classes: To set the context for a new and comprehensive calculation of the cost of teaching Senator Birmingham will release a major study by consultants Deloitte Access Economics, based on a data supplied by a geographic and mission representative 18 university sample. The report finds that costs per field of education are broadly similar to work done for the 2011 Base Funding Review, (received but ignored by the last Labor Government). However, the new report lays out fundamentals for developing a new model of the “reasonable-cost” of teaching to inform funding (see end of issue).  Signalling a major redesign based on the structure of this report Senator Birmingham said, “Australian taxpayers gave universities around $16.7 billion in 2016 alone or around $19,000 per student, which is more than ever before. In the context of a tight national budget, the Turnbull Government is focused on getting the best return for every taxpayer dollar invested. ”

In addition to changes to funding relativities via fields of education the new allocation model could also serve as the basis for efficiency dividends imposed on universities commencing in a couple of years.

accountable for entry: Minister Birmingham will also release tonight the plan from VU’s Kerri-Lee Krause and colleagues on enacting the Higher Education Standards Panel requirements for simplified and clarified undergraduate entry standards. They are standardised presentation of admissions information, adoption of common admissions terminology, revised ATAR-related thresholds and definitions, more consistent approaches and reporting and streamlined interstate application processes by state based tertiary admission centres, and monitoring and advice on improved admissions transparency by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency.

A sixth proposal is outside the group’s design role but will radically change the culture of university admissions by creating a national admissions information platform to go live for prospective students seeking to enrol in university in 2019.

The Krause Plan, “means we clear away the fog and double-speak that has clouded higher education admissions processes so prospective students can make well-informed decisions about if and what they want to study, Senator Birmingham says.”

If you’re not in Sydney…

“You’re just camping out, Paul Keating said and it seems universities agree. Last week Charles Darwin U opened an expanded teaching centre for business, nursing and finance courses in the Haymarket. Adelaide’s Torrens U is also expanding into Sydney, with a ‘soft launch’ of its English language learning campus in the CBD –joining four other central Sydney sites.

Numbers man on city living

QUT’s Marcus Foth is a new fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his work in urban infomartics, a term he coined for using data to study how cities work.

Wang out of RMIT

Former RMIT professor Dayang Wang was convicted of making an untrue declaration in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Friday. The matter involved a false statement with regard to a traffic offence. The internationally respected biochemist was fined $1000 and placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond. RMIT advises Mr Wang has resigned from the university to become a professor of chemistry at Jilin University in China. He had pleaded guilty to the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. The offence occurred while Mr Wang was on staff at the University of South Australia. He resigned from UniSA when it launched an internal inquiry into the matter in June 2015, moving to RMIT the following month. ( CMM March 13).

McLean to Melbourne

Ian McLean will take up the Hugh Ramsay chair of Australian Art History at the University of Melbourne. Professor McLean will move from the University of Wollongong.

Slow flow the Murray and Darling

The Sunshine Coast community push for a medical school in its flash new hospital has paid off, with the federal government announcing an allocation of 50 places there, although there is still concern over how many the feds will fund. Griffith University’s medical school is likely to take on the new programme.

News is not as good for the Charles Sturt and LaTrobe universities JV to create the Murray Darling Medical School, to service regions in country NSW and Victoria. The two universities have pushed the project for years and last week mounted a major media effort in the face of increasing opposition from university medical schools which already serve relevant regions. Expectations of an announcement by Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie last Saturday  at a rural health conference were dashed when he and Education Minister Simon Birmingham said “a number of complex issues require further examination” and that an assessment of medical places would continue over “coming months.”  Dr Gillespie’s conference announcement turned out to be $11m for dental services in remote and rural Australia, via the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Short of a surprise budget announcement it looks like the MDMS is still not a starter.

Peak scientists to meet

Chief scientists from the Commonwealth, states, territories and New Zealand will meet in Melbourne on Wednesday. The big boffin Alan Finkel will probably be pleased not to have make a speech with bits in German (see below).

QUT’s loss UniSA’s gain

Ruth Bridgstock from QUT (for now) is a new Principal Fellow of the (UK) Higher Education Academy. Principal Fellows are  recognised for a “sustained record of effective strategic leadership in academic practice and academic development,” and they account for just 1 per cent of the HEA’s 90 000 overall fellows. This is very good indeed for QUT, adding a real leader to its 325 fellows, just not for long. Her friends there lament  Associate Professor Bridgstock is off to the University of South Australia to become an academic dean for education, arts and social sciences.

And the Seaborn goes to…

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel delivered a couple of speeches in Germany last week that were works of art, as are the generality of his addresses. They were entertaining, without actually saying anything that could upset anybody, anywhere. They were informative, audiences always learn something when the chief scientist speaks and they were policy-focused without a dot point in sight. Above all, they were shaped by a convincingly constructed case for the transformative power of science.  Grand set-piece speeches they were not but they were beautifully targeted to charming the locals  Dr Finkel laid it on with a trowel so skilfully that if he ever gets sick of science he would make an excellent brickie.

And while they were very much his speeches they also demonstrate the core article of faith of those who wish politics could be as it is presented on The West Wing, where speech writers not headkickers, make the cases that shape policy, where speeches, great and small, matter. On TWW speechwriter Sam Seaborn wrote what the president wanted to say and wrote it beautifully. So does Dr Finkel’s writer, Jen Bowles.

No copycatting

Another day, another  online MBA ranking. Today’s comes from CEO Magazine which lists La Trobe U’s as ninth in the world, followed by RMIT at 14 and the University of Southern Queensland at equal 15th. Griffith U is equal 16th, followed by CQU, equal 20th and Swinburne U, equal 21st.

Good oh, but how does this compare to last week’s result when ratings agency QS put Deakin 16th in the world for its online MBA, followed by the University of Otago at 24th.. LaTrobe U, at 31 is the only ANZAC institution to make both lists.  But UNSW, which the Financial Times lists as world’s best isn’t anywhere on either of these league tables ( CMM April 28). Who knows what it all means for aspiring MBA-ers but you can’t question the independence of the different methodologies.

In the money: 2015 federal figures on individual university financial performance (including VET)

Revenue          ($m) Net Result         ($m) Adjusted Surplus ($m)1 Adjusted Profit Margin2 Adjusted Current Ratio3
Charles Sturt University 339.1 35.4 34.6 10.2% 1.75
Macquarie University 794.5 26.9 26.4 3.3% 1.81
The University of Newcastle 705.1 66.5 54.0 7.8% 1.52
Southern Cross University 198.1 (4.8) (7.1) (3.6%) 0.89
The University of New England 306.5 16.1 16.1 5.3% 3.85
The University of New South Wales 1,671.8 74.8 73.4 4.4% 1.13
The University of Sydney 2,030.3 158.2 156.9 7.7% 1.69
University of Technology Sydney 751.8 31.0 31.0 4.1% 1.11
Western Sydney University 731.5 43.0 39.9 5.5% 1.89
University of Wollongong 567.7 39.3 28.6 5.1% 2.49
Federation University 272.5 6.4 4.2 1.5% 3.36
Deakin University 916.1 64.0 59.7 6.5% 1.21
La Trobe University 715.3 67.3 66.7 9.3% 1.34
The University of Melbourne 2,107.0 145.5 140.5 6.7% 0.82
Monash University 1,911.5 129.1 122.6 6.4% 0.56
RMIT University 1,036.5 60.5 60.5 5.8% 0.63
Swinburne University 557.1 13.9 13.9 2.5% 1.58
Victoria University 410.4 (12.1) (12.6) (3.1%) 2.27
Central Queensland University 357.3 13.5 (3.1) (0.9%) 2.14
Griffith University 881.2 50.9 50.9 5.8% 4.33
James Cook University 481.6 29.7 (1.8) (0.4%) 4.08
Queensland University of Technology 955.9 33.7 33.7 3.5% 4.76
University of the Sunshine Coase 215.8 15.2 10.7 5.0% 3.24
The University of Queensland 1,712.8 35.6 34.9 2.0% 1.94
University of Southern Queensland 369.7 81.6 81.6 22.1% 4.02
Curtin University of Technology 910.0 62.0 57.1 6.3% 1.40
Edith Cowan University 389.6 28.9 28.9 7.4% 2.04
Murdoch University 311.7 (0.8) (0.8) (0.2%) 3.12
The University of Notre Dame Australia 175.9 19.7 14.4 8.4% 1.50
The University of Western Australia 937.4 32.4 31.4 3.4% 1.41
The University of Adelaide 872.7 53.0 53.0 6.1% 1.45
The Flinders University of South Australia 456.0 16.5 16.5 3.6% 1.33
University of South Australia 607.7 56.0 45.7 7.6% 3.05
University of Tasmania 588.7 6.3 (8.4) (1.5%) 0.62
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education 41.3 (3.2) (3.9) (9.5%) 2.73
Charles Darwin University 268.9 (22.1) (26.2) (9.9%) 1.83
The Australian National University 1,112.3 108.6 108.6 9.8% 2.39
University of Canberra 295.9 26.4 24.0 8.2% 0.75
Australian Catholic University 478.1 42.9 42.9 9.0% 0.96
All Institutions 28,610.0 1,647.9 1,499.6 5.3% 1.66

1  surplus adjusted by removing one-off Australian Government and State/Territory Government funding. While this is the correct treatment for the sector as a whole, it will differ to underlying results included in individual university finances which typically exclude capital funding.

2  universities with an adjusted profit margin of less than 5 per cent are highlighted.

3  adjusted current ratio removes current liabilities not expected to be settled within 12 months (ie current assets divided by the difference of current liabilities and current liabilities not expected to be settled in 12 months). Universities with an adjusted current ratio lower than the department’s benchmark of 0.75 are highlighted.

What’s a “reasonable” teaching cost?

The “reasonable cost” model for funding fields of education announced this morning in the Deloitte report  is intended to include:
* variations in scale and regional student populations, recognising the effects these contextual factors on efficient costs; * an explicit benchmark measure(s) of quality across FOEs, particularly with respect to input-based measures such as staff to student ratios (noting their co-related relationship with scale efficiencies); * variations in research intensity in some instances, depending upon related principals or notions of any funding arrangements this measure is intended to support; and * a level of underlying efficiency in the average cost of delivery that has been revealed by the envelope of observed operating costs.