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A new strategic plan (World ready: La Trobe in 2017) to re-position La Trobe University as it approaches its 50th anniversary will see the university adopt a new curriculum, introduce teaching-only positions, refocus its research efforts, slash unpopular subjects and shed under-performing staff.
The proposed curriculum changes seemingly echoMelbourneUniversity’s broad undergraduate degrees although La Trobe will continue to offer professional degrees at undergraduate level. The aim is to make La TrobeVictoria’s third most popular university. In terms of its share of student first preferences La Trobe currently trails Monash, RMIT, Melbourne, and Deakin.
It also wants to increase its share of first preference applicants from 12.6% to 14% by 2017, and its state-wide share of students with an ATAR of 80-plus from 7.1% to 12%.
The plan includes a target to increase the number of students by 30% from 26,800 now to 35,000 by 2017. That includes increasing enrolments of international students from 5300 to 7000.
La Trobe has already moved to create academic positions dubbed “established” researchers who meet minimum research requirements or who are deemed to be on track to meet the requirements. But the new plan says all staff need to be in those categories by 2017 or they will be moved into non-research positions and known as “teaching scholars.” It is expected they would make around 5-10% total academic staff. According to vice-chancellor John Dewar:
It is about creating a clear career path for excellent teachers, not finding a role for unproductive researchers.
He said staff who couldn’t meet the research requirements and who weren’t suited to a more specialised role would have their future reviewed, indicating such staff would be shed.
Meanwhile, the university has announced that up to 45 jobs will be cut in its humanities and social sciences faculty in the next six months in a bid to secure $4.3 million in savings to meet strict financial targets. The restructure also includes slashing the range of subjects by over half from 913 down to 400. Subjects to go include linguistics, gender studies, Indonesian, art history, as well as religion and spirituality that is offered at the Bendigo campus La Trobe student union president Clare Keyes-Lilley has protested that:
There has been no consultation with students around the proposed restructure. For a university which was rated this year in the top category by the National Union of Students for student engagement this is not only disappointing but an aggressive move by the central administration.
The NTEU says UTas had its eye on retrenchment instead of retraining programs as a means of realising its Open to Talent strategic plan and that redundancies recommended in a recent review of the arts faculty will be the “tip of the iceberg”, with the arts review becoming a template for a university-wide restructure. Its recommendations included collapsing the number of arts schools from ten to three and deleting 15 academic and 15 professional positions, as part of a $2 million cost-cutting exercise. The university has previously flagged measures to address what it considers to be “under-performing researchers”. Vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen says UTas is taking measures to ensure responsible resource management:
Our aspirations are demanding and we need to ensure that we steward our resources responsibly to deliver high quality teaching and research.
…brings the digital world into the real world of learning and experiences. [It] provides a framework for a bold and exciting future. It outlines the strategies Deakin will implement in order to achieve its vision for learning, for research and for community enterprise though to the end of this second decade of the twenty-first century.
In a notice to staff, Deakin vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander outlined three challenges:
- Improving our approach to Internationalisation is paramount as we all know that in this century we must take an international perspective.
- Continuing reasonably active growth in our Commonwealth Supported load is also important, probably for the medium term…as we approach a federal election and the possibility of a change in government, we must ensure that we are ready for a range of policy changes that often flow from a new and different broom..
- Implementing our new Strategic Plan LIVE the future is my overarching priority. The Deakin Offer, which builds on our history and takes account of our Australian context, is essentially about education where you are for the jobs of the future and research that makes a difference to the communities we serve.
The Commonwealth will provide more than $4 million to support projects at some of Australia’s leading universities to improve teaching and learning in higher education institutions. The Minister for Tertiary Education, Senator Chris Evans, announced 10 Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) fellowships valued at a total $1.4 million and 21 OLT grants worth a total $2.7 million across 14 institutions. Grants are allocated to education institutions to help academics and staff to investigate, develop and implement innovations in learning and teaching. The funding provided for these grants and fellowships is part of the Government’s $38.8 billion commitment for teaching and learning over the next four financial years to support the increasing number of students attending university as a result of its higher education reforms.
Academics may strike if universities refuse to increase wages and create thousands of permanent jobs for casual teachers, according to the National Tertiary Education Union. Victorian secretary Colin Long said too many academics are employed on a casual basis, giving them poor job security. The union is also seeking a pay rise of 7% each year for four years. It has called for the creation of 2000 permanent jobs for casual academics.
Research on the study pathways of international students suggests universities are becoming more vulnerable to the “pipeline” effect of declining enrolments in other sectors. A study by Australian Education International shows that up to four in five international higher education students now “pathway” from English colleges, schools and vocational training providers. The study indicates a major change in the behaviour of international students in the past four years. As recently as 2008, almost two-thirds of international students enrolled in just one sector. By comparison, 43% of overseas students who started higher education courses last year had previously studied English in Australia. Almost one in six had studied in vocational colleges, 8% in schools and 12% in non-award courses. The study highlights the importance of English colleges as a university feeder. Two-thirds of their 2010 cohort progressed to other levels of education, with 21 per cent moving into vocational training and 40% into higher education.
A Tourism Australia-like body for international education is gaining support in the sector, but The University of Melbourne has come out in opposition. Such an agency would only reinforce the perception of a narrow focus on student recruitment, Melbourne’s deputy vice-chancellor (engagement) Susan Elliott said in a submission on a discussion paper by the International Education Advisory Council under business leader Michael Chaney. The council has been asked to help the government craft a new strategy against a background of weaker markets, reputational damage and rapid policy change. The paper suggests the export education industry has become big and important enough to warrant a Tourism Australia-like body, funded by a “modest” levy on international students. Professor Elliott acknowledged there was “some support” in the sector for this idea, but said “a statutory body funded by a mandatory levy has no appeal” to Melbourne University. Melbourne’s submission emphasises the many dimensions of international education, including research collaboration:
Universities need to establish and maintain durable multi-stranded linkages with overseas institutions, particularly inAsia, that provide benefits for both parties, not just a flow of students for Australian institutions.
A submission by Universities Australia acknowledges internal differences but says “a number of members” support the idea of an expert commission for international education:
A centralised body for international education — possibly called Education Australia — could be tasked to deliver a much longer-term vision and co-ordinated approach to international education policy.
UA suggests Tourism Australia and the British Council as models, also embracing the notion of a junior minister being given an international education portfolio.
Legislation has passed the Parliament transforming Skills Australia into the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, which is tasked with choosing businesses to share in over half a billion dollars of federal training funds. The $558 million fund, established as part of the 2011 budget, helps enterprises cover the costs of training up their own staff. Funds are allocated to businesses through industry skills councils. The revamped agency also assumes a productivity advisory role, including researching ways of improving productivity and analysing the funding available to achieve it. Skills Australia CEO Robin Shreeve says the new agency will take a “bigger research budget and focus”. This includes conducting four “sectoral” studies a year, up from just one – Skills Australia’s annual update of resource sector skill needs. Other sectors to come under the microscope will include construction, aged care and disability services, with the agency also advising on defence materiel workforce needs.
Hundreds of TAFE courses will become free and there will be more choice of courses and providers under state Government reforms to training which come into effect on 1 July. About 400 training courses will be free, including every Certificate I and Certificate II course, accredited reading, writing, numeracy and computing courses and the priority courses. About 700 Certificate III and IV courses and 400 Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses will be subsidised, including 600 courses not previously funded. Students at diploma level and above also will be eligible to defer their course fee payments until they get a job and start earning, under the VET Fee Help scheme. Premier Jay Weatherill says:
We have skills shortages in areas such as engineering, construction and electro-technology. If we are to share our prosperity, we need to ensure South Australians have the skills for these jobs.“So from July, 45 courses will be free in priority areas where there are skills shortages.
Education experts and senior academics have called on the Victorian Government to abandon budget cuts that they say will effectively privatise TAFE inVictoriaand force several campuses to shut. In an open letter, 14 vocational education and training researchers have expressed concern at “radical funding changes” to the public and private VET sector inVictoria. Victorian TAFE Association executive director David Williams has said that as many as 600 jobs may be cut in regionalVictoriawhile metropolitan TAFEs could lose up to 1500.
Natasha Mitchell discusses Victoria’s TAFE funding cuts with three stakeholders on Life Matters.