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Uni surpluses don’t reflect “underlying position”

Uni finances18 April 2017     |    Victoria’s vice-chancellors have warned that their universities’ surpluses are artificially “inflated” and may bear little relation to reality. Among other pressures, the end of the Education Infrastructure Fund means need to generate healthy surpluses to fund future investments. Victorian Vice Chancellor’s Committee chair and La Trobe vice-chancellor John Dewar says the only way a university can fund a capital program given that there are no longer any sources of government funds for capital projects is by way of operating surpluses . By and large, universities operate with very low margins and with very little leeway for such large-scale organisations. Dewar’s statement came after university annual reports for 2014 were tabled in state Parliament on 15 April….[ MORE ]…..

Record TAFE losses in Vic

17 April 2015    |    Victoria’s TAFE sector has racked up huge financial losses, with one metropolitan institute losing more than $13 million. Annual reports tabled in State Parliament show only two decline (1)institutes generated a positive operating result for 2014. The combined operating deficit was expected to hit $52.5 million in 2014, from a combined $8.9m deficit in 2013the state government reported. Holmesglen Institute lost $13.8 million in 2014 and Box Hill Institute’s operating result was a $12.8 million loss. Bendigo Kangan Institute and GOTAFE each lost more than $10 million in 2014. However, Chisholm Institute recorded an operating result of just over $30 million and Wodonga TAFE’s operating result was a surplus of $1.3 million. Two institutes, Federation Training and Melbourne Polytechnic, have yet to table their annual reports. Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly NMIT) last year recorded a loss of over $30 mill…..[ MORE ]…..

Student debt growing rapidly as compliance declines

Game of Loans16 April 2015 | With student debt ballooning, reform of the FEE-HELP system (HECS) is now a pressing budget issue with the nation’s second biggest financial asset, after the Future Fund, being eroded as one in five debtors renege on their loans. That figure is expected to rise to 25% by 2017. The government will have more than $70 billion in unpaid university student loans on its books in another two years, double the figure owed in 2013-14. According to researchers Richard Highfield and Neil Warren, the loans system is being compromised by successive governments’ commitment to increasing participation in tertiary education while not paying adequate attention to repayment compliance, especially among lower income vocational students who are unlikely to meet the income repayment threshold for years, if ever. The rapid expansion of HELP debt has also been driven by extension of the scheme to vocational students, a move which has been marred by mass-scale rorting by dodgy colleges. It would grow even more rapidly under a deregulated university fee regime…..[ MORE ]…..

Science contributes $145 b to GDP

16 April 2015 | A report released by Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist – The importance of Science & economyadvanced physical and mathematical sciences to the Australian economy – has found that advanced physical and mathematical sciences make a direct contribution to the Australian economy of around $145 billion a year, or about 11% of GDP. When the flow-on impacts of these sciences are included, the report finds the economic benefit expands to about $292 billion a year, or 22% of the nation’s economic activity.Chubb says that for the first time we now have the numbers on the table showing the importance of these sciences to the Australian economy. It is too easy to take the benefits of science and innovation for granted, and this report shows that the knowledge from these disciplines supports and enhances economic activity which benefits all Australians……[ MORE ]…..

V-C salaries take off

Fee increase216 April 2015 | University heads have been pocketing substantial salary increases while demanding the Senate pass government legislation to allow fee deregulation based on the argument their institutions are cash-strapped. The biggest increase was for Sandra Harding, head of north Queensland’s James Cook University and chairwoman of peak group Universities Australia. Harding’s salary has increased 65 % in just four years — from $559,000 in 2010 to $927,000 last year, including a $79,000 pay increase last year. The highest paid vice-chancellor in Australia is Australian Catholic University’s Greg Craven, who took home a package of about $1.2 million in 2013……[ MORE ]…..

Fines for dodgy operators

16 April 2015 | Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) breaching standards could be issued Quality2with an immediate fine under the new infringement notice scheme. New laws recently passed in the Senate require anyone, including brokers and other third parties, marketing a vocational education and training (VET) course to clearly identify which RTO is providing the qualification. Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, said that up until now the national regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) could only write warning letters, or take regulatory action such as cancelling or suspending a provider’s registration. He said he “hoped” the fines would act as a significant deterrent for training providers taking part in unscrupulous practices……[ MORE ]…..

International strategy welcomed

Flags

16 April 2015 | The draft National Strategy for International Education released by the government in early April has been welcomed by the tertiary sector. The strategy defines three pillars of international education and six achievable goals to underpin Australia continuing to be a destination of choice for students, teachers and researchers. Submissions will be taken on the strategy until 29 May. …..[ MORE ]…..

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Milestones

Ian Jacobs takes over at UNSW

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Professor Ian Jacobs commenced as Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales in February 2015, succeeding Fred Hilmer, who stepped down after eight years in the role.

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Ian JacobsProfessor Jacobs came to Australia from the UK, where he had a distinguished career as a leading researcher in the area of women’s health and cancer and in university leadership. Immediately prior to joining UNSW he was Vice President and Dean at the University of Manchester and Director of the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, a partnership linking the University with six healthcare organisations involving over 36,000 staff. He was previously at University College London, where he created and led the Institute for Women’s Health, was Research Director of UCL Partners and Dean of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences.

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Comment & analysis

16 April 2015

Mistakes were made

Failure of the deregulation package and the way ahead

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The failure of the government to carry the Senate on its proposed higher education reforms can be put down to the government’s arrogance and heavy-handedness and what would politely be called its disingenuousness. Parts of the package were not without considerable merit – for example, extending public subsidies to the students of non-university higher education providers is a long overdue fairness measure and extending them generally to sub-degree programs could considerably improve retention rates. But overall, the package was seen to be poorly conceived and fundamentally flawed – certainly in respect of total fee deregulation.

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Mistakes were made, not the least the mistake of poor judgement by the university sector peak organisations, which came across as unalloyed supporters of the deregulation package: education minister Christopher Pyne was able to trumpet that the package had the support of “40 out of 41 vice-chancellors”, the single dissentient seemingly being Stephen Parker of the University of Canberra. It was never quite that straightforward – Andrew Vann (V-C Charles Sturt University) was, initially at least, as stridently opposed as Parker. At the outset, immediately after the Budget, Universities Australia, for example, called for changes to the package and a careful working through of the detail; and quite a few vice-chancellors expressed concern.

By and large, however, it’s true enough that the key plank of the package – unfettered fee deregulation – had the broad support of the university sector. And, at the end, the various university organisations were pleading with the Senate crossbenchers to pass the package.

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16 April 2015

Who should go to university?

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Conor King of the Innovative Research Universities group fears that in the absence of university fee deregulation, the demand driven-system will be dumped.

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New higher education minister Kim Carr is considering a rethink on the opening up of university places. AAP/Julian Smith

Back to the future?

Who should go to university, only the select or all who want to? It is the question that ran through the 2015 Universities Australia Conference in March. It is lurking behind the contentious funding and fees debate that has wracked higher education for the past year. It is the issue that determines how well higher education supports Australia’s future.

Gary Banks, former Productivity Commissioner, best illustrated the question. He revealed the ambivalence between the economist in him and the romantic academic. The economist argues human capital theory – the importance of each individual developing their education and skills to the optimum to apply in future work and life. The academic worries about the flood of people on campus, too many of whom do not meet the test of bright minds in pursuit of knowledge.

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15 April 2015

The social costs of high university charges

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Photo: Andrew Taylor

Photo: Andrew Taylor

This is an extract from Bruce Chapman’s submission to a Senate Committee inquiry into higher education fee deregulation (February 2015) in which he proposes a “progressive tax” on university funding as a means of constraining fees. He suggests the question of what the “right” price to charge students for public sector university teaching services “is not an argument that can be made easily with reference to economic theory or compelling evidence related to allocative efficiency. It is instead basically an ethical issue.”

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It needs to be asked: Does it matter that students/graduates might end up paying very high prices for higher education in Australia? Why should we be concerned about this possibility when it will still be the case that even with very high price rises, average lifetime graduate incomes will remain far greater than the incomes of non-graduates? This issue has exercised considerably my reaction to the fee deregulation debate since the Budget was brought down in May 2014. Some basic points are as follows.

There is no compelling and accurate answer to the question of how much students should contribute to the costs of running Australian public universities. Including my own research, all attempts to explain and measure the social benefits of university teaching are fraught with problems of inadequate data, less than convincing method and unclear conceptual interpretation.

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Life & stuff

6 April 2015

Image is everything

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News Corp photographer Brad Hunter will join Tony Abbott’s media staff later this month, raising concerns that news photographers will gain less direct access to the prime minister. .

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Abbott & kid asleep

The kid couldn’t take it any longer

Although it has long been a fixture in US politics, the Prime Minister broke new ground when he employed a former press gallery TV cameraman to his staff after the election, a move that frustrated television crews who found themselves forced to rely on footage provided by Mr Abbott’s press office.
It is not uncommon for the weekend television news to have only the Prime Minister’s weekly video message, recorded by his staff and distributed on a Sunday, to use in bulletins.
The videos were also distributed on social media, but it is often still photography that resonates best on the medium.

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