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Anxiety gave way to relief across universities after Labor handed down a higher education budget [on 8 May] that maintained indexation and delivered a $120 million increase to the overall research budget, lifting it to $1.72 billion. University chiefs expressed delight at the announcement by Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans, after higher education emerged as one of the few portfolios to be spared cuts. But many urged the Government to do more to protect the sector from the softening of international student numbers, and called on the Minister to respond to his own Higher Education Base Funding Review, which recommended a 10% boost in funding to ensure Australian universities remains internationally competitive. Senator Evans announced that Labor would maintain its indexation rate of 3.8%, and would invest $38.8 billion over the next four years to support the decision to lift the cap on student places. Since 2007, there has been a 36% rise in students attending universities.
The Commonwealth government expects to save $354 million through changes to employer incentives by axing a $1500 commencement payment while raising the completion payment from $2500 to $3000. The change only affects ‘existing worker apprenticeships’ in non-priority areas. I t has no impact on payments for newly employed trainees, or for apprentices in the 60-odd traditional trades on the National Skills Need List. Effectively, it means employers can’t earn themselves a quick $1500 by shifting people who already work for them onto traineeships. TAFE Directors Australia said the change would mainly affect business, hospitality and retail employers. The government will save another $48m by delaying other commencement payments for three months. Commonwealth Minister Chris Evans said both changes had been recommended by the recent expert panel report on Australian apprenticeships. The Australian Council for Private Education and Training said the cut was a reasonable price to pay for compensatory windfalls such as the $558m National Workforce Development Fund.
Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s blueprint for improving national engineering, science and maths capacity got a boost in the budget with $54 million allocated to improving teaching at both secondary and tertiary levels. Another proposal that financial incentives be offered to entice high achievers to train as science and mathematics teachers at university is to be considered in the context of the government’s response to the review of base funding later this year. Chubb “warmly welcomed” the initiative.
Victoria University is experiencing the full brunt of the Victorian government’s decision to slash funding to TAFEs. VU estimates the cutbacks will shave $29 million off its funding. The cuts come just as the university plans to strategically reposition itself with a revised curriculum, a big part of which will be sub-degree programs. As one of the larger dual-sector providers in Melbourne, approximately 17% of VU’s enrolments is in national VET certificates or in state curricula including access and preparatory courses, such as the Victoria Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), and pre-apprenticeship programs. Deputy vice-chancellor Anne Jones says that the detail of the recently released strategic plan The VU agenda: excellent, engaged and accessible would now have to change but she was optimistic the direction would remain the same.
The National Tertiary Education Union has called on the Victorian government to reverse the major reduction in public funding for TAFE announced in the recent state budget, ahead a rally to protest the cuts inMelbourneon 10 May. The union says the cuts could result in up to 1500 teaching and administration jobs being lost, course cutbacks and institutional amalgamations or closures. The NTEU lists likely impacts as currently reported by institutions as follows:
- Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE (campuses at Yallourn, Morewell, Leongatha, Warragal): 35 staff made redundant, management have announced a complete restructure, including closure of the hospitality course.
- Box Hill Institute: 33% budget cut, redundancies expected.
- Wodonga TAFE: 33% budget cut, redundancies expected.
- Chisholm Institute of TAFE (campuses in Berwick, Cranbourne, Dandenong and Frankston): significant budget impact, course cuts.
- Homesglen: $28 million budget cut.
- Kangan Institute (campuses in Broadmeadows, Essendon, Moonee Ponds andRichmond): rumours up to 150 jobs could go.
- Sunraysia Institute of TAFE (campuses in Swan Hill, Robinvale, Mildura and Ouyen): 10% budget cut, significant redundancies expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
- Gordon Institute (Geelong): 21% budget cut.
- Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (campuses across the northern metropolitan area ofMelbourne): $23 million budget cut, redundancies expected.
- BallaratUniversity: 40% budget cut to TAFE operations.
- RMITUniversity: $20 million budget cut to TAFE operations.
- VictoriaUniversity: $29 million budget cut to TAFE operations, further redundancies expected.
The Scan’s full coverage.
Just one in six Victorian diploma students has embraced the HECS for skills loan scheme, suggesting the federal government’s headline vocational education reform could be overwhelmingly rejected by the students it is meant to help. Last month the Council of Australian Governments agreed to extend VET FEE-HELP to government-supported diploma students in all states and territories. Until now the loans have been available only to full-fee students, except inVictoriawhere they also have been open to government-subsidised students since mid-2009. Commentators worry that the scheme could make training less rather than more accessible, as governments use the loans to justify increased tuition fees. Victoriaremoved maximum fee caps and abolished concession fees for diploma students as part of last week’s state budget, with the government citing the loans as the reason for removing the concessions that had been reintroduced just a year earlier. Victoriaalready has the country’s most expensive government-subsidised diplomas, with fees tripling to $2500 following the 2009 reforms. Experts now predict fees for many diplomas could double again, after the state government last week slashed funding rates for up to 80% of courses.
The University of NSW has launched a new diploma which, it claims, equips students with the practical knowledge and skills to pursue professional careers. The Diploma of Professional Practice (DPP)is open to all students and can be studied concurrently with an undergraduate degree. The DPP was developed in response to feedback from students requesting the inclusion of work placements as part of their studies and from employer concerns that university graduates need more opportunities to integrate their academic knowledge and skills with real workplace experience. Students can choose from a wide-range of DPP courses covering topics such as global citizenship, as well as leadership and professional practice. The diploma also offers opportunities to gain real-world experience through two structured work placements.
Australian universities are a long way from fully disclosing the connections between their researchers and vested interests, a new study has found. The study shows that although most universities generally require staff to declare potential conflicts of interest (COI), at least 15 institutions lack specific COI policies and just four demand annual declarations. Only eight universities maintain a central COI register for all staff. “It’s a failure of process,” lead researcher Professor Simon Chapman, of the University of Sydney, told Campus Review. Chapman’s study further finds that no university here requires staff to disclose competing interests when making public comment or on their website profiles. In addition, any related information universities collected was rarely accessible by the public and media, he said.
University risk managers are increasingly focusing on threats to academic quality the institutions have been reluctant to acknowledge, according to University of Newcastle NTEUpresident Suzanne Ryan. Speaking after addressing a risk management conference, Dr Ryan said the new quality regulator is forcing universities to address the threats from rising casualisation, English language standards, and increasing numbers of non-traditional students with lower school scores. Previously, risk professionals have tended to focus on finances, buildings and fraud.
Southern Cross University (SCU) has defended its international programs in light of admissions irregularities uncovered at courses inSingaporeandHong Kong. In a statement released on SCU’s website, vice-chancellor Peter Lee said an SIPMM employee had been “providing a statement of completion for SIPMM students who had undertaken studies elsewhere, in order to trigger automatic admission to SCU under the terms of the collaboration agreement”. Students with qualifications from institutions other than SIPMM are supposed to be considered on a case-by-case basis. SCU said the staff member in question was no longer working for the institute, which is registered with the Council for Private Education inSingapore. SCU has advised the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) of the apparent irregularity. Although initial reports of the irregularity suggested that SCU might be in danger of “deregistration” for breach of provider standards TEQSA advised that
Deregistration of a provider is not part of a first response by TEQSA. TEQSA regulates against a set of threshold standards, and if there is a potential breach, there is a graduated range of actions we can take — beginning with an enquiry for further information to clarify an issue, or noting action a provider has taken to address an issue.
Insurer Unimutual says universities are cutting academic jobs in order to make overdue repairs to the leaky buildings supposed to house a rising number of students that need academics to teach them. General manager of risk management services at the insurer ,Harry Rosenthal, has warned that the rising cost of storm damage is a sign of a serious maintenance backlog, and the fragility of modern, energy efficient buildings. He warned that the cost of addressing the problem is forcing universities to make major strategic decisions, such as cutting academic jobs. Mr Rosenthal told the HES that after stripping out the impact of catastrophic events, the cost of “normal” storm damage so far this year is almost equal to the entire cost of such damage last year.
I don’t think we can blame this entirely on the weather. It is a reflection of deferred maintenance, ageing building stock and the selection of less robust construction materials for energy conservation.
The hiring of casual staff, delaying redundancies and offering teaching-only roles will offset some of the workload left by the proposed 55 jobs cuts at the Universityof Sydney. As 23 further letters offering voluntary redundancies to staff went out, bringing the total to 55, an angry demonstration took place outside the regular Senate meeting on Monday 7 May. A policewoman was hurt and three people were arrested, then released without charge.
ANU has announced a major restructuring of its Bachelor of Music program from the start of 2013, which will see 10 of the school’s 23 jobs cut. The university says that, under the proposed new model, students can, for the first time, receive academic credit for contributions to musical activities in Canberraand beyond. ANU will build on the already significant technological advances that connect students with master classes, other students and innovations at world-class music schools, across Australiaand overseas. Ten of the school’s 23 academic positions are to be cut, according to The Canberra Times. It is not yet clear how the restructure will affect the nine full-time general staff, nor how it will affect the 40 part-time specialist staff and tutors. The objective is to wipe out $1.3 million of the school’s annual $2.7m deficit, but is separate to the broader $40m cost cuts planned at the university (The Australian 4 May).
Melbournehas emerged as the policy leviathan ofAustralia’s higher education revolution. Within a 5km radius of The University of Melbourne are located the major regulatory and research bodies fuelling the nation’s most significant university reforms in a generation. This status was recently consolidated with the establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency inMelbourne’s CBD. At the centre of higher education policy sits the Grattan Institute, the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, the LH Martin Institute and TEQSA. This neighbourhood network generates the most influential policy on Australian higher education today. The emergent government demand for evidence-based policy and quantitative measures of university performance is giving rise to the development of higher education as a specialist field of academe. The advent of the discipline in Australia is most evident at The University of Melbourne. The Scan is located in this general area.