The Scan 17 May 2012

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Chief seeks new spark in science

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, is feeling contented.  Last Tuesday he scored $54 million in the federal budget – and also saw the government release his blueprint for turning around the country’s declining performance in maths and science. His report, Mathematics, Engineering & Science in the National Interest, suggests a daunting challenge. It was commissioned by Prime Minster Julia Gillard.

 I thought the government’s response to the report was pretty good, especially in the circumstances.  But the money allocated is just a start.

Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans has said more will come with the government’s response later this year to the Lomax-Smith report on university funding.

Having achieved some of his aims, Professor Chubb is now looking forward to the government’s response to his next major report, due out next week. Unlike the National Interest report, only one of seven chapters in the forthcoming Health of Australian Science is about schools.  The rest focus on universities and researchers.  He says the paper is a detailed analysis of Australia’s research capabilities, its international profile and overseas links, as well as fields such as agricultural science that are vulnerable – not because of the quality of the research being done but because of declining numbers of undergraduates enrolled.


International revenue up despite drop in enrolments

University revenue from international students in Australia was up 7% in 2011 despite a drop in the number of commencing students.  In a survey ofAustralia’s universities by Australian Universities International Directors’ Forum, 37 universities reported international student revenue of $3.892 billion in 2011, up from $3.642 billion across 38 universities in 2010.  The number of new students, a leading indicator of future revenue, dropped 9%, from 105,185 commencements in 38 universities in 2010 to 97,058 in 37 universities in 2011.


TEQSA mapping higher ed sector

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is seeking information from higher education providers that will assist them to determine trends in the sector.  TEQSA is proposing a three-month reporting window until the end of August 2012, in which it is seeking the following:

  • Student data covering the main Higher Education Information Management System (HEIMS) elements relating to enrolment, load, progression and completions.
  • Staff data covering the main HEIMS elements relating to contract type, full-time equivalent (FTE) value, work type, level and, for academic staff, their highest qualifications.
  • Financial data including registered entity audited statements for the last three financial years and a forecast for the next two years.


Govt “must listen” to insecure work inquiry

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has welcomed the report of the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work, Lives on Hold, released at Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress in Sydney on 16 May.  NTEU president Jeannie Rae said the report shows that  the key divide in our workforce is no longer between blue-collar and white collar workers, but between those who have secure work with full entitlements and those on the ‘periphery’ of the workforce who are employed in casual and contract positions.”

 As an academic, I have watched the gradual casualisation of my profession over the last decade with growing alarm.  As many as 77,000 out of a total university workforce of approximately 180,000 are now casually employed. More than half the undergraduate teaching in Australian universities is carried out by casual academics employed by the teaching hour.

She says strategies are required on different levels to regulate and reverse the growth in insecure work, including better funding and support for life-long education and training.



Student charters as an accountability tool

The demand-driven funding system is compelling universities to differentiate their offering to the student market and students increasingly have an expectation that what is promised in marketing is delivered.  A key question for higher education providers is whether, and to what degree, student charters should reflect their key points of differentiation and lend weight to their marketing claims. However, after surveying a sample of Australian university charters, Lenore Copper concludes that there is little evidence of this occurring at the moment.  The review of current practice suggests that further work needs to be done inAustraliato define good practice principles for the development, design, dissemination and review of student charters.


Blueprint for training disaster

Victoria’s training reforms have been a monumental policy failure, writes John Ross.. Competition introduced to smarten up training has had manifestly the opposite effect.

The training budget blew out by $500 million (as opposed to a projected increase of $100m) and TAFEs are carrying the can with estimated cuts of close to $300m. The TAFEs say courses, facilities and possibly entire campuses will have to go.  Fees will rise sharply and support services for disadvantaged students will evaporate. The future of some TAFEs are in doubt.  That’s not all Victorian taxpayers got for their $500m.  They got an explosion in dubious courses from private colleges as the reputation of the education and training sector sped south.

You would think any government would steer well clear of similar reforms — right?

Wrong. All state and territory governments signed up to similar reforms just last month at COAG.  And while some are tampering withVictoria’s settings, there’s no sign they plan to address the central problems — inadequate resourcing of the regulators and underfunding of some of the most vital types of training.


Market failure caused TAFE disaster

It’s hard to find anyone prepared to put up their hand and recognise, let alone take accountability for, the root cause of the market failure that has led to the parlous state of Victoria’s public TAFE system WRITES Kangan Batman CEO Ray Griffiths.  The bipartisan introduction of competition in vocational education and training was conceived to provide more people with more skills to meet labour market needs and to provide incentives for service quality improvement and improved efficiency in a legacy, public sector provision model.  Notwithstanding plenty of evidence that Victoria’s contestability policy has delivered some tangible benefits, it was modelled to meet labour market needs and stimulate modest expenditure growth from $800 million to $900m a year. It actually blew out to $1.3 billion, almost entirely in private provision and most explosively in low-skill, low-economic value courses.  This policy has unequivocally failed to deliver on its core aims, and the government’s determination to stabilise the VET system at an annual spend of about $1.1bn, which would be seen as a triumph for what was an $800m system in normal circumstances, has been lost in the controversy about how the blow-out occurred and how the necessary savings have been engineered.


TAFEs “still vital”: Evans

Tertiary education minister Senator Chris Evans has tried to provide reassurance amid speculation that the federal government’s commitment to the public provision of skills training is faltering.  In an interview with Campus Review, Evans said he was concerned that vocational education and training reform inVictoria had infringed on the market share of TAFEs in that state. He said he intended to take up the issue with the Victorian government. However, he also reminded concerned public educators that the state was ultimately in charge of its TAFE systems.  the COAG agreement, reflected in the budget, is where the real damage to TAFE has been done. You only have to look at the massive unravelling as a result of cuts in the Victorian budget to see where we are heading nationally.”


Additional enabling funding another threat to TAFEs?

The 2012 budget anticipates that enabling and foundation places to help rising numbers of underprepared students heading to university will rise by the equivalent of 400 full-time in 2012-13 to 8600, then to 9400 in 2014.  Increases beyond that will be at the discretion of the government, which has retained quotas on all sub-degree programs.  In recent, past enabling courses accessed a fixed pool of money, with the result that between 2005-2011, the amount per student fell 43%from $3592 to about $2000.  Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said the new funds would boost per-student funding to $2500 by next year, rather than allow it to fall to $1833. In 2014 it will be $3068, with indexation thereafter.

There are fears existing full-fee pathways from vocational training will be cannibalised by the new funding.  And inVictoria, where university-based enabling courses are rare and TAFE pathways dominate, the already financially squeezed TAFE sector is likely to take another hit.

University ofMelbournepro vice-chancellor Richard James says the demand-driven system gives  financial incentives for universities to enrol students directly into degrees.

I can’t see a big place for foundation programs into the future. I think the tertiary system will just have to accommodate a greater range of school leavers preparedness within its undergraduate degrees.


Doing well: helping young people achieve their potential

This NCVER report looks at the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY), which follow young people as they make the transition from school to further study and work.  It particularly focuses on research which gauges how concepts such as wellbeing and social capital are measured for students, as well as pathways from school to work, ‘at risk’ youth, and the effect of combining school and part-time work.

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