Everyone’s a winner

Monash is the most sought-after university to study at in 2018, with one in four Victorian students putting us as their first preference,” MU, via Facebook yesterday.

“This afternoon VTAC released first round undergraduate offers, with four out of the top five most popular Victorian courses being UniMelb degrees,” the University of Melbourne tweeted around the same time.

They know where they stand

Before Christmas the Australian Academy of Science and Science and Science and Technology Australia wrote to the prime minister urging him to rectify the absence of a science minister in cabinet. “Four science ministers in three years have made it difficult enough for the minister of the day to provide leadership and for the science sector to feel any degree of certainty. No science minister at all makes it impossible,” they warned. Mr Turnbull has not replied.

IRU’s Stirling defends demand driven system: “the plural of anecdote is not data”

Capping student numbers is a short-term measure not a long term solution, Innovative Research Universities head and Flinders U VC Colin Stirling warns. It is also unfair, denying “access to life changing opportunities,” as well as being out of touch with the times. While the DDS grew Australian universities enrolments by 200 000, to one million in the same period China increased its university student population by five million. “We can’t afford an under-educated workforce compared to Asian powerhouses,” he says.

And he warns that the funding freeze will put “downward pressure” on high-cost programmes on “disciplines in need,” in science, engineering and health.

Nor is Professor Stirling impressed with the government’s ideas for objectives universities will have to meet to secure growth places when the two-year freeze ends. “The metrics floated so far, graduation rates, attrition, time to complete, are goals from the ‘80s. Students now have much more complicated lives, they juggle work and study, attrition is very often independent of university. Even the idea of employability – if Flinders graduates a self-employed entrepreneur with a part-time job the government would view this as a failure because they are not employed full-time.”

Nor has the demand driven system failed on these sorts of measures, with graduate employment and student satisfaction both in the 80s. “Over the life of the demand driven system the attrition needed barely moved, Professor Stirling says.

“We are seeing people deriding the sector and its performance by anecdote, but the plural of anecdote is not data,” he adds.

Professor Stirling says the IRU would welcome “ a review of the entire post school education system, to meet the needs of the economy and young Australians.”

Postgrad researchers take the long view

PhD students look beyond their ivory towers, demonstrated by a new survey of their engaging outside the academy. Some 58 per cent of STEM researchers and (a surprising) 44 per cent of HASS scholars say their research, “is oriented towards industry or society,” Peter Bentley, Emmaline Bexley and Mollie Dollinger  report in a new study for the Australian Council of Graduate Research, based on responses from 3700 PhD students at a representative sample of ten universities.

Overall, few of them actually engage outside the academy, while 39 per cent of all students had participated in lectures/seminars with non-university organisations just 7 per cent had either paid/unpaid work related to their research outside the university. But this does not mean they aren’t interested in a wider perspective. ACGR adds that over 70 per cent of doctoral students report “they had benefited from external contact or advice on their PhD from non-university organisations.”

Denise Cuthbert from ACGR also points to the unexpected high-level of engagement among HASS students, suggesting it is, “an opportunity for universities and the communities they serve, to work together to ensure even deeper levels of engagement and the involvement of individuals from the university.”

Overall, Professor Cuthbert says the survey provides, a chance “for universities and government to rethink the dynamics of university-end user relationships in research training.”

The research originally included eleven universities but while the University of Melbourne was part of the 2016 pilot, surveying half its PhD students, it declined to participate in the full implementation for the other half last year. This seems strange, given the authors are University of Melbourne researchers.

MOOC of the morning

Tama Leaver and Gwyneth Peaty will teach, “how the media got social,” for Curtin U, via edX, starting Monday week. The course examines how technology created the base for social media to become “the default mode of the mobile web we use today.”

The return of unfunded undergraduate places

With university offers out, Universities Australia warns modelling shows 9 500 students will commence study this year without public funding for their places. The government’s surprise announcement before Christmas that it would freeze undergraduate enrolments at the 2017 level gave universities no planning time to reduce the number of offers they would make in-line with the new funding arrangement.

“Universities are determined to honour their commitments to prospective students but our early modelling shows the scale of the funding gap inflicted by the government’s cuts,” UA chief executive Belinda Robinson says.

UA adds its modelling shows universities are caught between “a rock and a hard place.”

“The impact will vary from university to university. Some will be forced to offer fewer places in some courses to avoid a budget black hole. Others will have to dig into critical maintenance funds or will lose the funding they need to run outreach into remote and regional Australia,” Ms Robinson warns.

The Christmas cuts, on top of previous funding reductions, mean “universities will also be under pressure to enrol fewer students in expensive but crucial courses such as nursing, IT, science and engineering,” she says.

However last night Education Minister Simon Birmingham said there was nothing new about universities enrolling students without federally funded places. “Before the demand driven system, universities regularly enrolled more students than they received government funding for but still saw millions of dollars flow into their coffers from those students through HELP debts. I expect we’ll see the same enrolment behaviour.”

“Reports show that in the last seven years Australia’s universities splashed $1.7 billion on marketing and advertising. How much of that was from taxpayers? There’s no reason universities could not tap into that funding and grow enrolments they see as having strong employment outcomes,” the minister said.

Hot diet of the day

Hot chilli added to food can help with weight loss,” Victoria University announces. Perhaps, because incinerating your tongue isn’t appetizing. But it could be a case of pain for less gain. As chilli researcher Anthony Zulli explains; “fundamentally, weight loss can only result from a controlled diet and regular physical exercise.”

Go for the gambit

Just before the MYEFO funding freeze in December, Griffith University offered staff a 7.5 per cent pay rise across the next enterprise agreement, more, a learned reader suggests, than universities which now know their newly straightened circumstance will propose. Certainly the University of Queensland said last year it would not make an offer until the size of government funding cuts was clear.

But Griffith may have wriggle room – the National Tertiary Education Union did not agree to last year’s offer, calling it an “opening gambit,” (CMM December 15). The gambit might be as good as they could have got.

Tempus fugit

“Restoration works are underway on our historic clock tower,” ANU Art and Design reports. Insofar as works completed in 1939 are “historic”.

UniSydney unionists keep their heads above water

The University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union had a big 2017 and set out its wins in a debrief, here. The big ones include jobs saved, an industry-leading pay-rise and the establishment of worker representation in university decision making. “Our fight against rampant managerialism at the University will be assisted by some new participation structures,” the comrades advise.

Professional staff will be represented on committees covering “key areas of the university” and there will be “local democratic processes … for establishing and reviewing academic workload policies in all academic workplaces across the university.”

This will be useful given the union says management’s strategic plan means, “a tidal wave of change proposals will likely be released in coming months.”