The full Hitchcock

CMM correspondent Melanie Daniels reports that it isn’t just ducks and ibis that are proprietorial at the University of Queensland (CMM yesterday). There also bush turkeys who make themselves at home all over the St Lucia campus. As does the occasional aggrieved goose which looks on humans as pests.

TEQSA top team gets the nod

The government has expressed confidence in the higher education oversight agency, renewing all three TEQSA commissioners. Chief Commissioner Nick Saunders has a new three-year term with Cliff Walsh reappointed for four and Lin Martin for two. Terms are staggered to “ensure continuity and stability.”

Education Minster Simon Birmingham used the announcement to signal TEQSA priorities for the year; contract cheating, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual assault and sexual harassment and improving admissions transparency.

In breaking news

The University of Melbourne reports “something exciting is coming” to campus. “ “We’ll give you a hint it involves food … and trucks.” Gosh, how will they ever make space for an Aldi semi.

Training lobby takes the high ground

While many university leaders mull over the shape of the post demand driven policy debate, VET advocates are seizing the high ground. Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is making the case that it is time for the states and commonwealth and industry to combine to look at the nation’s training needs. This is way different from tentative talk of a review of all of post-secondary that puts universities at centre stage, Mr Camm is making a case that training not HE must be core; “It still perplexes me that as each year goes by governments are spending less and less on creating the skills Australia needs for the future. … The big problem facing the sector right now is rebuilding government support and funding so that students and industry can get the skills.”

This is smart politics. The Opposition talked up TAFE for all of last year and while the SA debacle makes this harder, there is space for Labor to make expanding access to skills an election issue. Space the government will not readily concede.

Loose lips sell colleges on slips

In the South Australian election campaign Liberal leader Steven Marshall promises a defence focused technical college. What, like the ship building college his federal colleague Christopher Pyne talked of being established in SA by the start of the year, but isn’t?

All over for opaque ATARS

The Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency reports all universities and half of the other higher education providers have “made endeavours to implement improvements to admissions transparency.” From any other organisation, this would read as damning with faint praise but TEQSA isn’t big on superlatives.

All providers must also adopt by May the admissions terminology changes set out by Kerrie-Lee Krause (La Trobe U) and her colleagues in the Admissions Transparency Implementation Working Group, including;

replacing “bonus points” with “adjustment factors”

“ATAR cut-off” and “clearly in” are out, replaced by “lowest ATAR/selection rank” to which an offer was made.”

The new rules also include how;  “reordering of the applicant groupings to make all post-school entry pathways adjacent to each other” and “limiting the ATAR profile table in the program/course information set to the highest, lowest and median ATARs to which offers of places were made; and “removing the 25th and 75th percentile ranks to reduce its complexity.” Everybody clear on that?

McNeill moves

Margot McNeill is moving from Navitas to become DVC learning and teaching at the International College of Management, Sydney.

A case for teaching focused unis

While lobbies focus on maximising their share of a reduced quantum of cash,  subtle strategists are using the new circumstances to talk about options for a new sort of universities.

In a wide-ranging essay for the Group of Eight newsletter on what quality means for staff and students University of Adelaide DVC Pascale Quester suggests that the research-intensive model suits the former but not all of the latter. And yet all universities aspire to being research–driven, despite the costs.

“Is there really no room,” she asks,” for institutions that may succeed without the fees of international students simply because they can deliver great value to a substantial proportion of the domestic student population, without incurring the exponentially higher costs of undertaking research?”

Professor Quester warns that a focus on research rather than students by “many excellent universities” is “a grave collective risk.”

“They leave the field wide-open for private providers who will fill the gap and generate healthy surpluses by delivering the sort of vocationally orientated education that some tertiary education institutions used to deliver so well but are now prepared to neglect in pursuit of research intensity.”

She adds that while institutions focused on graduate completion and employment outcomes may not meet academic ideas of quality they are what the present government wants, and are “far closer to what I would expect a majority of students (and their parents) to hold true.”

We have been here before. Friends of the research-intensive universities used to suggest they would make best use of all federal funding for it. Warren Bebbington, Professor Quester’s old boss at UniAdelaide, made a strong case for adopting the US model of elite teaching-only colleges. Past times were never quite right for such arguments. But with the government suggesting future base funding growth will be tied to undergraduate outcomes present times are.