But while most are comfortable for cash VU and Fed U are short of a spare quid

Plus what to do if attrition does not improve – HESP has an idea

Group of Eight call for independent higher education commission


Quitch in

Swinburne University’s Grainne Oats and Dan Hunter have won the American Accounting Association’s 2017 award for Innovation in Accounting Education for their “content-neutral gamified mobile learning platform,” Quitch. The product is already licensed to Australian universities, which will surely now be joined by a bunch of US ones. Less a case of quids than Quitch in.

 Crisis, what crisis?

The Higher Education Standards Panel is inviting responses to its discussion paper, which explains that attrition is always with us but Australia can do better. If universities don’t HESP has an idea.

But it isn’t about restricting access, despite moral panics over ATAR scores and the demand driven system, attrition is not worse than trend. “The facts do not support these assertions,” HESP suggests.

Good-o, but Aus is only average with 70 per cent of 2009 university starters completing by 2014, compared to an across OECD 69 per cent. Although, the Brits had an 84 per cent rate with the Danes and New Zealanders 81 per cent.

Clearly the system can improve, and because “the empirical evidence is weak,” HESP is asking for ideas on what to do. The panel suggests five areas to work on;

before enrolment: improve information and advice and encourage aspirations about and for study among prospective students

institutional culture: providers need systems focused on students

teaching and learning: more senior academics and higher quality teaching, and a progress task for students before withdrawal census

student support: data driven warnings of students in strife, targeted assistance

accountability: “Hold institutions to account for entry standards and student outcomes.”

All sensible stuff, although being “held to account” will alarm universities already unsettled by Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham’s proposal to tie 7.5 per cent of Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to performance measures.

Linton becomes dean

Valerie Linton is the new dean of engineering at the University of Wollongong, where she is now a professor. Professor Linton stood down as CEO of the Energy Pipelines CRC last September (CMM September 23).

Good stories to tell

When it comes to selling nursing to students the medium and the message matter.

Nurses get mixed media, presented as super-competent independent practitioners (thinking Call the Midwife) or hugely capable drug addicts (looking at Nurse Jackie).

This matters, says Anthony Tuckett from the University of Queensland. “The stories told through societal and popular culture images and messages about nurses impact the career choice of potential candidates,” he writes with Korean colleagues, Hyein Kim and Jihye Huh. The challenge for nurse recruiters is to present the profession’s positives and communicate its opportunities.

The authors asked ANZ nurses what words best explained their work and opportunities to school leavers and found respondents proud of what they do, engaged with the professional and people skills involved and enthusiastic about the work and life opportunities it delivers.

And both medium and message matter.

Nurse educators must get their message into print and broadcast media and use experts to communicate in social media, they write. “In order to get both the message and image out to the school leaver and career guidance teacher, the greater public, especially parents and the profession, the modern nurse educator needs to be telling stories, sharing examples of exemplary practice, education and research and promoting the achievements of the nursing workforce.”

More med ed places at ANU

Another move in the doctors for the bush debate

ANU is establishing a bachelor of health science programme, with a quota for rural and Indigenous students, who will receive 15 of the 50 domestic student places. The degree will include medical education, biomedical science, population health, psychology, social sciences and public policy. It is designed to prepare graduates for careers in medicine, allied health and health-related professions and “will make it possible for talented rural and Indigenous students to consider medicine as a career” through ANU’s doctor of medicine and surgery degree.

“As Australia’s national university, we want to ensure we have a strong representation of graduates from all parts of Australia, including rural areas and Indigenous communities,” says ANU Medical School’s David Kramer.

The announcement comes as supporters of the Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities proposed Murray Darling Medical School argue that the MDMS is the best way to address the shortage of doctors in their rural catchments. Existing medical schools variously argue that they provide many students with country study and that the problem is in post-graduation training places. ANU’s move will not necessarily lead to more country doctors but it goes to making the case that existing med schools are addressing the problem, which is a remarkably fortuitous bit of timing as the MDMS lobby ups the PR pressure.

Rules or regulators

Student funding system expert Mark Warburton slices and dices the government’s new legislation to protect higher education from the sort of spivs that rorted the old VET loan programme.

In a new paper to go live this morning for the L H Martin Institute, Mr Warburton examines the legislation in detail but also suggests that now, as in the past, problems lie less in rules than the way they are, or are not, enforced.

“Much of the problem has been about a lack of preparedness to take action based on existing regulatory powers and confusion about the responsibilities of the various agencies.  The ‘problem’ will only be fixed when there is effective implementation of regulation and each agency involved actively performs its role.”

He also suggests the legislation, while intended to apply to NUHEPs can cover  public universities if a minister was inclined to use it.


All Vic unis in great shape (well nearly all)

Victoria universities are in solid shape with assets nearly five times liabilities, the state’s auditor general, state auditor-general Andrew Greaves concludes in his report for 2016. 

“The universities have large cash and investment holdings and relatively low debt. The composition of their balance sheets has shifted over the past five years, with universities investing their surplus money in more long-term instruments for better returns,” Mr Greaves writes.

The A-G found most of the universities well able to fund their operations and renew assets. Net results per institution were; Deakin U 5.16 per cent down from 7.16 per cent in 2015, Federation U 0.2 per cent down from 2.33 per cent in ’15, La Trobe U 5.1 per cent down from 8.8 per cent, Monash U 7.8 per cent down from 7.9 per cent, RMIT 7.6 per cent, up from 5.8 per cent, Swinburne U 3.5 per cent up from 2.7 per cent, University of Melbourne 7.3 per cent up from 6.9 per cent.

Victoria U was 2.5 per cent in deficit, an improvement on 2.8 per cent in the red in 2015 and 3.64 per cent in 2014.

Overall the A-G concludes net result margins mean “the sector may have room to improve its management of costs,” which could be “particularly important” if federal cuts reduce revenue growth.

Blue at WSU

 It’s more arguing than bargaining as Western Sydney University management and union find little to enterprise agree on.

After many meetings, the WSU branch of the National Tertiary Education Union says management has now unveiled its objectives for a new enterprise agreement, substantially slimmed statements of rights and conditions and one per cent per annum pay rises for all staff, with a small cash one-off for junior professional staff.

“In the best part of a decade of involvement in enterprise bargaining I have never witnessed such monumental disingenuousness and imperviousness to staff feedback and concern. It is as if WSU Management is bargaining from inside a bubble. It is an approach to bargaining which cannot yield positive results, which can only serve to alienate staff, and which has now gone on far too long,” NTEU president David Burchell tells members.

And so, the union says it is doing something about it, taking procedural steps towards protected industrial action. “It is clear that we can hold off on action no longer.  Management is not listening to staff concerns, and it is rapidly losing credibility and respect,” Dr Burchell says.

Last night WSU management responded that the union had advised it was applying to Fair Work Australia for a protected action ballot order.

“The university is disappointed by this latest development. The university continues to bargain in good faith with the hope of reaching a resolution soon,” WSU told CSM.


Leave it to the experts

The Group of Eight want expert oversight of universities

The Group of Eight’s submission to the Senate committee inquiry into the government’s proposed higher education changes is as per it’s recent selectively signalled deploreathon. But among the warnings of imminent disasters if there are any cuts in money there are  indications of what the Eight really wants.

Like more and direct research funding; “the bulk of university funding in Australia is tied to student numbers. Yet an unintended consequence of this model is that it provides a financial disincentive for universities to grow research capacity. At the same time research itself is underfunded leaving both direct and indirect costs of research to be heavily cross-subsidised from teaching funding,” the Eight argue.

And like “moderating” the demand driven system.

“The DDS has also had only limited success in increasing participation from other equity groups such as indigenous students and those from regional and remote areas. It is also the case that while under the DDS undergraduate degree participation has grown substantially, important sub-degree programs in vocational education and higher education have not had the capacity to grow in line with the needs of the economy.”

The eight suggest expanding the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships  Programme to provide scholarships, “with a particular emphasis on alleviating accommodation and other living costs.”

The eight also want a base funding model that reflects the costs of teaching, scholarship and research.

And to do the thinking all this would involved the Group of Eight proposes a standing higher education commission. “Such a body would also take a key role in providing a whole of system view of higher education such as reform of the higher education funding model – for both teaching and research, implementing transparency in resourcing for universities, and improving support for low SES and Indigenous students to attend university.”

These are all ideas that various Go8 VCs have argued for over the years. For example, the University of Melbourne’s Glyn Davis has long made the case for an independent oversight agency; “if we are not going to have deregulation we need an effectively regulated system,” he told CMM last year (CMM February 1 2016).  But how will an expert commission go down with other universities? Better than moderating the demand driven system.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM, who reported yesterday new AM Denise Woods was at the University of South Australia, she moved some time ago to CQU.