The Scan 26 April 2012

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Measuring research impact

Universities seeking to develop broader measure of research impact

Dozens of industry experts are being sought to serve on eight panels for an Australia-first audit of the impact that university research has on the economy, society and environment.  Twelve universities, including the Group of Eight, have joined a pilot assessment led by the Australian Technology Network of universities that goes beyond the narrow academic focus of the Excellence in ResearchAustraliaassessment to assess applied research.

Separately, the Go8 has published a “backgrounder” on the theme that that business and universities are different but complementary parts of the national innovation system and the effectiveness of the system depends on them working together


Tough financial times for Vic unis

Annual reports for 2011 show that Victoria’s universities are performing indifferently in financial terms, with most posting lower surpluses than for the previous year and with income propped up by one off Commonwealth grants.  

The divide highlights growing pressures particularly on “lower-status universities” in closely competitive markets such asVictoria as a result of the demand-driven system. VictoriaUniversity’s operating surplus tumbled to just $8.6 million from $34.2m a year ago, but excluding capital grants and other one-off items it suffered a $13.1m deficit.  La Trobe’s surplus fell to $84.6m from $101.2m, but it said its underlying result was just $22.8m, down from $35m.  Deakin’s surplus fell to $75m from $83.5m, for an underlying result of $57.5m, down from $63.9m.  RMIT’s fell to $53.3m from $78.6m, while Swinburne’s fell to $38.1m from $51.3m.  And despite posting a combined surplus of $185.5m, on the back of increases in Commonwealth grants, The University of Melbourne ($88.9m) andMonashUniversity ($96.6m) say that the government’s contribution is still inadequate.   Monash’s chief financial officer David Pitt points out that Monash’s operating margin of 6% (Melbourne’s margin was about 5%) is “conservative by any industry standard.  Every cent gets ploughed back into infrastructure, and that’s still not enough”.

  • Uni surpluses not enough to fund future needs


Govt rates international student risk

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has for the first time identified what levels of risk are attached to international students across the sector, based on the countries from which they come.

The information will be used by institutions to tailor enrolment intakes to reflect sector-wide balances and ensure they meet the standards required by the new streamlined visa processing system.  Many of the sector’s largest source countries are rated at the lowest-risk level 1,includingMalaysia,Indonesia andSingapore.Australia’s biggest source country,China, sits just within level 1.  Other big source countries that rate at the riskier but still moderate level 2 include India,Korea,Saudi Arabia,Sri Lanka,Bangladesh and Vietnam.


No ducking Robb

Someone wrote last year that if the Gillard government had a duck, it would drown: “belly up, gurgle gurgle, plop! – there goes another duck.” 

According to Simon Marginson, the Gillard Government has run out of ducks, so it is imperative to consider what an Abbott Coalition government portends for universities, research and training.  Will the new government begin with a major cut in public funding as happened under Howard and is suggested by the Abbott fiscal settings — abolish the carbon tax and mining tax, and cut tens of billions out of public spending?  Will the demand-driven system continue, and will a Coalition government deregulate price?  While Coalition spokesman on higher education is Senator Brett Mason displays a genuine commitment to higher education and research in the national interest, assuming he takes the gig post-election, he would be relatively junior and lack heft.  Marginson suggests that advocacy (lobbying) should be focussed on Coalition finance shadow Andrew Robb, who will be at the centre of decision making in an Abbott government.  Continuing attention needs also to be paid to the Greens, who will retain pivotal role in the Senate and therefore have the capacity to at least modify policy measures, if not block them altogether.


MyUniversity draws more flak

The MyUniversity website is under fire again over its metrics, at the same time as analysts have attacked a new European rankings system and questioned the value of rankings data.

When the site went live earlier this month, Universities Australia said that problems included attrition rates, staff-student ratios and the entry score cut-off search function.  Charles Darwin University is now arguing against the retention rate measure being used as a benchmarking tool – “not just because it is inaccurate, but also less accurate for some universities than others.”  Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins said the site failed to give “the full picture”.  At the University of Southern Queensland, for example, the government data only recognises offshore students if they are studying on overseas campuses, so offshore students studying by distance are classified as studying from Toowoomba.  The CQUniversity’s staff-student ratio is a problem because the site takes account of the thousands of international students studying there, but not the more than 100 academics teaching them, employed by a wholly owned company called CMS.  Accordingly, CQUniversity appears to have the worst student-staff ratio with 47:1, but when CMS staff are factored in the ratio drops to around 25:1.


UC investigator appointed

The University of Canberra has appointed Graham Webb, a former deputy v-c at the University of New England, to investigate allegations of soft marking of two Chinese international students in the journalism department two years ago.


Roadmap to sustainability for ASEAN universities

A roadmap for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to introduce sustainability education into universities by 2015 is being finalised.

Policy-makers in fast-growing ASEAN countries are focusing increasingly on sustainable development, which requires a balance between economic growth, social development and environmental protection.   But this needs to filter down to academic research and teaching, particularly as universities are taking on a more important role in tackling global and regional challenges, according to Norizon Mohammed Nor, director of the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.


NUS survey to measure impact of deregulation

The second Education Quality Survey run by the National Union of Students will track the impact of deregulation on Australia’s undergraduates.

The survey, which was run for the first time in 2010, is to be conducted biennially across all university campuses.   “It has proved a useful tool for the NUS to use when speaking to the government on behalf of students,” said NUS president Donherra Walmsley.


COAG VET funding model “flawed”

The national VET funding agreement signed off by COAG has a number of problems, according Martin Riordan, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia.

It’s a plan without transparent modelling on the educational impact, nor guarantees on the financial capability of states and territories to sustain this new training entitlement plan, nor quality indicators.  For industry and providers, there proved little coherent consultation.  The ministerial and senior department “consultation” meetings contained little to no detail on what was on the negotiating table, and the evidence for the change.  Amazingly, he says, no data was revealed on the Commonwealth’s own review of Victoria’s much troubled contestable funding, and over-subscribed entitlement model.  He cites Kim Bannikoff, educational consultant and council member of the Australian Qualifications Framework, to the effect that the COAG model is the “wrong model” for Australia.  The Commonwealth has consistently driven down the unit cost of training, to “strip out” full service provision and quality educational support for students.  And the Commonwealth has consistently settled for a skills product that is “too narrow”, relying entirely on training packages – already criticised for not offering the generic wider literacy, numeracy and learning skills identified as needed to lift productivity.  He also says that, with the end of the Productivity Places Program (PPP), the new agreement will result in the gradual decline of federal investment in training, and the $1.75 billion is in fact less than the real increase in the CPI, over the full term.


Who trains whom

The Australian has analysed how many public and private training providers are accredited to deliver training in the Commonwealth government’s top 20 growth occupations requiring VET qualifications. 

It shows that while private providers dominate the lists of providers registered for aged and disabled carers, hospitality and sales training, there are relatively few providers of more sophisticated technical and trades training outside the public TAFE network.

Receptionists (projected job growth: 15,200)                           1094 providers

Waiters (26,400)                                                                        622 providers

General Clerks (31,500)                                                            621 provider

Aged and disabled carers (46,700)                                           479 providers

Child Carers (30,600)                                                                385 providers

Retail managers (26,100)                                                          265 providers

Contract, program and project administrators (28,000)             254 providers

Chefs (17,300)                                                                           236 providers

Welfare support workers (16,300)                                             179 providers

Earthmoving plant operators (14,200)                                       149 providers

Accounting clerks (22,400)                                                        117 providers

Gardeners (10,000)                                                                     88 providers

Nursing support and personal care workers (22,000)                  85 providers

Electricians (58,900)                                                                    77 providers

Real estate sales agents (13,700)                                               74 providers

Drillers, miners and shot firers (22,800)                                       56 providers

Plumbers (26,000)                                                                        51 providers

Carpenters and joiners (20,800)                                                  40 providers

Architectural, building and surveying technicians (9700)             23 providers

(This only adds up to 19 because  there aren’t any recognised VET qualifications for truck drivers).


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