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The Year to date

Plus ça change

11 March 2016

There’s a lot to catch up with but, as they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (which is, according to the estimable Wiktionary, an epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”), meaning “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”)

Carpet baggers

As previously reported, changes to the VET FEE-HELP (VFH)  scheme legislated late last year provides some better protection of students from the carpetbaggers who have looted the scheme and dudded the students.  The government proposes to spend this year look at ways to rort-proof it from the likes of Phoenix.  But as so many people have asked: how did it get to this?

Part of the answer is a near pathological obsession by governments – of all stripes – with “deregulation” and “marketisation”.  As former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair observed last year, “…..this huge waste of government money is the “inevitable consequence” of governments funding the private sector to deliver a public good. From the home insulation debacle to export market development grants, film industry tax incentives, health and education subsidies, Samuel says the same thing has been happening “as long as I’ve been alive”:

Business is much, much smarter than governments, and business knows how to exploit and you can’t deal with that using people sitting in Canberra or Spring Street. The rogues – and they’ll be there in any industry – they say with glee, all the way to the bank, ‘Come in spinner’!”

This is not to argue against competition and a role for private providers but you have to have, among other things, a robust regulatory system.  Quite evidently, this has not been the case.

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The state of VET in Australia

A fractured system

16 March 2016

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In a policy paper, VET funding in Australia: Background trends and future directions, Peter Noonan from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute says the low priority traditionally accorded the vocational sector has been exacerbated in recent years by wild inconsistencies between states on what they funded and for how much, ad hoc federal funding programs, rorting and distortions caused by VET FEE-HELP and the relentless push to reduce costs for both levels of government.

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While there are 200,000 more VET enrolments than there were 10 years ago, enrolments have been trending downwards since 2012.

This compares to higher education enrolments which have risen 43% over the same period and which continue to rise.  Given the full implementation of the demand driven system in 2012, which enables universities to enrol as many students as they choose, there’s an obvious causal link there, which has particularly hit TAFE enrolments (a double whammy for TAFE, given aggressive growth in the private VET sector).

The paper notes that the Bradley Review (of which Noonan was a member) identified the risk

…that some states and territories face major fiscal constraints, which may lead them to reduce their investment in VET in the near future, leading to skewed and uneven investment between the sectors over time if a demand-based funding model is adopted for higher education.

The Bradley Review further argued that:

moving to a demand-based approach to funding higher education cannot be done in isolation from VET. Changing higher education funding but leaving VET funding untouched would compound existing distortions.

Which is exactly what seems to have happened.

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The case for a national VET review

16 March 2016

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Following is an extract from a submission by the LH Martin Institute to the House of Representatives Inquiry into TAFE (May 2013) which argues the need for a comprehensive national inquiry into VET.

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…policy-makers, in particular, but also industry, the VET provider sector and analysts need to be mindful of the sometimes enervating effect of constant changes to and attempts to remake the VET system.  A restless, seemingly ceaseless search for perfection seems to characterise the official mindset about the VET sector.  At any one time, it is almost certainly likely to be that one or other or several of Australia’s nine government jurisdictions will be inquiring into VET and or have in train a process of “skills reform”.

The sector would undoubtedly benefit from a period of stability, certainty and consolidation.

That stated, it is, of course, a requirement that policy settings and system architecture including funding arrangements be understood to be and broadly accepted to be “about right”.   Whether such a condition of broad consensus is achievable appears moot: it has, evidently, proved beyond achievement for a decade or more.

LH Martin Institute has stated the case for a broad overarching, root and branch review of VET, as has occurred in recent years in higher education (the Bradly Review) and schools education (the Gonski Review).  It’s well past time: such a fundamental review has not occurred since the Kangan Committee in 1973/74.

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How teaching funds research in Australian universities

16 December 2015

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A report by the Grattan Institute report finds that universities earn up to $3.2 billion more from students than they spend on teaching, and have powerful incentives to spend the extra money on research. International students, who usually generate more revenue per student than domestic students, contribute a substantial proportion of this surplus. The report’s author, Andrew Norton, says the finding is concerning because, while university research matters to Australia, the evidence that it improves teaching is less clear. He observes that direct spending on teaching, by contrast, is far more likely to ensure that universities offer the high-quality courses students want. In this commentary in The Conversation, Norton observes that the priority of research within universities means that teaching does not always get its share of time and money. He proposes that any new funding system must ensure that money intended for teaching is spent on teaching.

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Venting about VET 

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25 November 2015     |    An RTO operator, who wishes to remain anonymous (fair enough),  laments that the reputable “sprats”, such as herself, are being caught up in the net intended to catch the “sharks” in the VET ocean.

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Governments in Australia extol the virtues of small business – for their contributions to employment and innovation, for example – but in the training industry “small” is starting to be an impossible feat.  It’s getting to the point that an RTO can only survive if it has an extremely large scope and doesn’t specialise, as that gives it the flexibility to game the system to survive constant funding and regulatory changes.

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Once was TAFE

8 December 2015

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There’s been a growing chorus of outrage over the looting of VET FEE-HELP by a handful of VET providers, coupled with disbelief that the government and regulatory agencies could have had such lax safeguards as to allow this to happen. It was all perfectly predictable. On 29 April 2012, The Scan published Once was TAFE, a commentary on the then Victorian government’s introduction of so-called “competitive neutrality” in the public funding of VET. It’s a piece that has stood the test of time. It does beggar belief that having been witness to the chaos that was occurring in the Victorian system courtesy of open access to funding and manifestly inadequate regulatory procedures, the Commonwealth could basically repeat the mistakes of Victoria in extending access to VET FEE-HELP – and then let it run unchecked for a couple of years. 

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The past couple of years have been like Christmas time for carpetbaggers in the Victorian VET sector. The “skills reform” initiated by the former Labor government opened up public funding of vocational educational and training provision to all comers.  And as to the field of dreams, the private RTOs have flocked.   At the end of September 2011, 721 providers were delivering government subsidised enrolments in Victoria, almost 80 more than at the same time in 2010 and 160 more than in 2008. The share of government subsidised enrolments by private providers increased from 14% in 2008 to 36% at the end of September 2011 and is now in excess of 50%.

 

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9 December 2015

Beggaring belief

Fairfax Media reports on the $1 million cost to taxpayers of completed Human Resource Management Diplomas at the so-called Australian Institute of Professional Education (AIPE) – Aussie dollars$111 million paid out in VET FEE-HELP in 2014 for just 117 completions.  Meanwhile The Oz reports that the Australian Competition an Consumer Commission is taking a third provider – Empower Institute – to court over allegations of “misleading or deceptive and unconscionable conduct” when marketing its courses to remote communities across the country (it will follow Unique International and Phoenix College to the Federal Court dock) – it enrolled 14,000 in 2014 for just 5 completions, which would work out at over $10 million for each completion !!!  

And while  VET FEE-HELP was being looted, what was ASQA, the sector regulator, doing?  Not a lot it seems: it got around to launching an investigation into AIPE in November 2015 – that’s right, last month. 

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Anatomy of a scandal

How did the Australian VET system get here?

8 December 2015

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Jim Davidson, a former senior official of both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments and now a Senior Honorary Fellow of the LH JimMartin Institute, dissects the  crisis now enveloping the VET sector. As as he asks: How  could this have happened?  Good question. He says future policy responses by government need to deal with the root causes of the current growth in VET FEE-HELP and not further exacerbate the issues caused by the current policy settings.  And he proposes that an immediate measure should be  a moratorium on VET FEE-HELP loans for online course delivery and establish an enquiry to formulate appropriate requirements and costings for online delivery of nationally accredited qualifications including a benchmark completion rate.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer: ALL the providers under investigation and/or being prosecuted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have one thing in common: online delivery.

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8 December 2015

ACPET dismayed, too

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Rod Camm2ACPET’s Rod Camm expresses dismay over the raft of changes in relation to VET FEE-HELP legislated last week  -and fair enough, too, because the blameless will be collateral damage in cracking down on the utterly blameworthy rorters.  But Camm also poses the question that has occurred to most VET sector participants and observers: how could this have been allowed to happen?  He answers the question thus: 

Without….checks and balances this could only mean Government has been approving this phenomenal growth, in a relatively small number of public and private providers, blind.

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The importance of universities to Australia’s prosperity

28 November 2015

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 Universities Australia commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to analyse the contribution that universities make to Australia’s economic and social prosperity. This work was undertaken to inform the development of Universities Australia’s Keep it Clever—Policy Statement 2016.  The report seeks to present a comprehensive and coherent framework of benefits generated by universities. This includes examination of the conceptual role of universities in Australian society and how they contribute to the success of the nation, as well as a more detailed analysis of the benefits directly attributable to universities. The scope of the analysis does not include a detailed examination of the economic activity generated by university operations, but rather examines the contribution made to the productive capacity of the economy through universities’ teaching and learning, research discovery and adoption, and community service activities.

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As institutions, universities embody social, economic and intellectual resources which combine to generate benefits on a local, national and global scale. They equip students with the knowledge and skills that allow them to make greater contributions to society; they generate and disseminate knowledge which enhances productivity and improves living standards; and they provide a myriad of broader community benefits.

This report canvasses and examines the various ways in which universities contribute to our economic and social prosperity and how, given the economic imperatives confronting Australia, the sector’s role is likely to evolve and grow over time.

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How teaching funds research in Australian universities

16 December 2015

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A report by the Grattan Institute report finds that universities earn up to $3.2 billion more from students than they spend on teaching, and have powerful incentives to spend the extra money on research. International students, who usually generate more revenue per student than domestic students, contribute a substantial proportion of this surplus. The report’s author, Andrew Norton, says the finding is concerning because, while university research matters to Australia, the evidence that it improves teaching is less clear. He observes that direct spending on teaching, by contrast, is far more likely to ensure that universities offer the high-quality courses students want. In this commentary in The Conversation, Norton observes that the priority of research within universities means that teaching does not always get its share of time and money. He proposes that any new funding system must ensure that money intended for teaching is spent on teaching.

Redesigning Australia’s tertiary 

 29 October 2015

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If there is the collective will, a window of opportunity has opened for a serious discussion about the future architecture of Australian tertiary education and the funding mechanisms that would encourage genuine diversity to flourish, write Richard James and Leo Goedegebuure.

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ReformAfter two lost years the sector desperately needs funding reforms. But how can the debate be placed on a new footing? We believe the answer lies in returning to first principles: what kinds of institutions, and what mix of institutions, would best serve Australia?

Our thinking is simple: let’s develop a farsighted vision for the character of the tertiary education sector as the precursor to developing a restyled funding, per­formance measurement and regulatory framework. This may be an ambitious idea but the logic behind it is compelling.

The Turnbull government’s decision not to pursue Christopher Pyne’s deregulation package is very welcome. There is a risk, however, that any hastily revamped student fees package will fall into the same ruts that beset Pyne.

One reason for the failure of the Pyne package is that the debate largely put the cart before the horse. Somewhat bizarrely, the funding reform was launched without any discussion of the structure of the higher — let alone tertiary — education system.

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Realigning the VET system

21 July 2015

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With the the Prime Minister and the Premiers and First Ministers  gathering in Canberra for a retreat on reform options for Australia’s fractitious, if not fractured, Federation, all the chatter is round increasing the rate of the GST from 10% to 15%,  either to “compensate” the states/territories for whacking cuts in Commonwealth grants in future years, which has a dark logic to it,  or to make way for income tax cuts, which doesn’t seem to have too much logic to it all.  But there are other proposals on the table.  SA Premier Jay Weatherill, in a speech to the National Press Club, has proposed, among other things, a realignment of Commonwealth and State responsibilities in education.  

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Jay WeatherillHe proposes that States and Territories be responsible for the education of people from birth to the end of secondary schooling, and the Federal Government dealing with everything beyond – including higher education and vocational education and training (VET).  While the States retain nominal ownership of higher education, the Commonwealth calls the shots throgh its primary funding role and through the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, which regulates the sector.  The Commonwealth has an important role in VET, particularly through the Australian Skills Quality Agency,  but in funding, the States retain primary responsibility in VET.   Similarly, the Commonwealth has an important role in funding schools education, particularly for equity purposes and as a catalyst for reform, but schools remain the province of the States (although the Commonwealth provides the overwhelming proportion of funding for private schools, which would be an issue).  There is considerable logic for a transfer of VET to the Commonwealth, to create consistency in funding and policy, and it’s an idea that has been around since at least the “New Federalism” of the early nineties and was actually agreed to in 1991, but fell over when Paul Keating knocked off Bob Hawke as Prime Minister.  Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come, though you’d be right to be cautious of the equity implications of the Commonwealth vacating schools funding, particularly in the absence of some sort of funding settlement around Gonski (a point made by Weatherill).  But let’s at least keep the proposal on the table and see where it might lead.

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In defence of good research wherever it is found

21 July 2015

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In response to commentary deprecating The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne, Conor King,  the Executive Director of the Innovative Research Universities Group,  provides his perspective on the valuable insight which the Survey presents. 

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The commentary on The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of Hilda2the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne has been sidetracked by one plausible statistic, neglecting the full import of the Survey.

The Survey confirms the earning value from higher levels of education, particularly for women.  It shows that, for women, having a higher education degree is important for the likelihood of employment.  That is not so for men who tend to be employed but with lower earnings if not a graduate.

Those outcomes are not necessarily new but since they based on a cohort covering multiple generations they underpin the value from expanding the take up of higher education, a core mission of IRU members.

The new aspect coming from the survey is the hint that school results let alone intelligence are not long term strongly correlated with income. Rather it is the fact of education.

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Improving equity through VET FEE-HELP

21 July 2015

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Two of the key architects of the original HECS, Dr Tim Higgins and Professor Bruce Chapman, have produced a new report that argues for significant reform to the income contingent loan scheme that would extend it to more VET students while making it affordable. 

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Go8 Equity scales

 They argue that extending income contingent loans to more VET students is required to ensure equity among tertiary students,  but this would require adjustment to the current system otherwise it would not be financially sustainable or equitable. They note that when compared to university graduates, Certificate III and IV completers have low incomes and, for women, low employment outcomes. They propose that,  unless government funding for tertiary education is increased, there is a persuasive case for reducing the income repayment threshold, reducing the repayment rate and imposing a uniform loan surcharge across all tertiary students.

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Realigning the VET system

21 July 2015

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With the the Prime Minister and the Premiers and First Ministers  gathering in Canberra for a retreat on reform options for Australia’s fractitious, if not fractured, Federation, all the chatter is round increasing the rate of the GST from 10% to 15%,  either to “compensate” the states/territories for whacking cuts in Commonwealth grants in future years, which has a dark logic to it,  or to make way for income tax cuts, which doesn’t seem to have too much logic to it all.  But there are other proposals on the table.  SA Premier Jay Weatherill, in a speech to the National Press Club, has proposed, among other things, a realignment of Commonwealth and State responsibilities in education.  

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Jay WeatherillHe proposes that States and Territories be responsible for the education of people from birth to the end of secondary schooling, and the Federal Government dealing with everything beyond – including higher education and vocational education and training (VET).  While the States retain nominal ownership of higher education, the Commonwealth calls the shots throgh its primary funding role and through the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, which regulates the sector.  The Commonwealth has an important role in VET, particularly through the Australian Skills Quality Agency,  but in funding, the States retain primary responsibility in VET.   Similarly, the Commonwealth has an important role in funding schools education, particularly for equity purposes and as a catalyst for reform, but schools remain the province of the States (although the Commonwealth provides the overwhelming proportion of funding for private schools, which would be an issue).  There is considerable logic for a transfer of VET to the Commonwealth, to create consistency in funding and policy, and it’s an idea that has been around since at least the “New Federalism” of the early nineties and was actually agreed to in 1991, but fell over when Paul Keating knocked off Bob Hawke as Prime Minister.  Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come, though you’d be right to be cautious of the equity implications of the Commonwealth vacating schools funding, particularly in the absence of some sort of funding settlement around Gonski (a point made by Weatherill).  But let’s at least keep the proposal on the table and see where it might lead.

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Free public education:

Gonski reforms are all but dead

The Age | 26 June 2015

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Free public education has existed for more than a century in Australia, and Abbott and Pyne know they cannot change that. So what are they really planning, asks Glenn Savage? If the Australian public ever needed proof that school funding is a mess or that the Gonski reforms are all but dead, we now have it.

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Gonski post

Free public education has existed for more than a century in Australia, and Abbott and Pyne know they cannot change that. So what are they really planning?

If the Australian public ever needed proof that school funding is a mess or that the Gonski reforms are all but dead, we now have it.

A confidential discussion paper by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet shows how radically the Abbott government has departed from the equitable funding model proposed by the Gonski report in 2011. Not only is Gonski gone, but it also appears that a range of weird and wonderful new reform options is on the table.

The paper emerges in response to current Reform of the Federation processes and flags four major options for comprehensively reshaping school funding in our nation.

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quote marks Not only is Gonski gone, but it also appears that a range of weird and wonderful new reform options is on the table.

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Granting TAFE a monopoly isn’t good for it in the long term

But current market design is seriously flawed

26 June 2015

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While the pivotal role of TAFE in VET provision needs to be recognised and funded, seeking to restore a TAFE near monopoly, as the SA government appears to be doing, would be a mistake, argues Peter Noonan, limiting student choice and diversity within the system. Nevertheless, the publicly funded training market as it has emerged in VET is seriously flawed and needs a fundamental rethink and redesign.

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Tonsley

The South Australian government has decided to largely limit funding for government-subsidised vocational courses to TAFE South Australia, the sole public training provider. The decision has resulted in a significant backlash from non-government providers and from peak business and social welfare bodies in the state.

The federal government has also intervened. It is threatening to withhold A$65 million in vocational education and training (VET) funding to the state, arguing that it is in breach of the VET National Partnership Agreement. This agreement commits the states to contestable VET funding.

Under this contestable funding agreement, TAFE has lost a large amount of the market share in Victoria and South Australia. These are the states that most strongly embraced contestable VET funding. Government cuts to TAFE in Victoria emerged as a significant issue in the 2014 state election and the Andrews Labor government is undertaking a major review of VET funding in Victoria.
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Seven seriously bad Ideas that rule higher education

29 June 2015

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The commodification of higher education….casualisation of the academic workforce….online is the way to go….public disinvestment in education is inevitable …. higher education is in crisis. This repost from Inside Higher Ed by Joshua Kim is about the US higher system but the themes are all too familiar to anyone associated with Australian higher education.

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Seriously bad ideas, I’d argue, have a life of their own. And they rule our world.
Paul Krugman, from Seriously Bad Ideas
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.
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The Leyland P76 is an example of a seriously bad idea – click image.

Seriously Bad Idea #1 – Institutional Sustainability Requires That Faculty Costs Be Minimized:

Institutions that follow a cost saving strategy of adjunctification and other non-full-time, non tenure-track faculty models are trading short-term cost savings for long-term viability. The critical comparative advantage offered by any college or university is the highly trained and experienced educator.
Treating teaching as a commodity, rather than a highly intensive skill best undertaken by a dedicated educator, is the surest way to enter a race to the bottom. Smart institutions will invest in faculty, since faculty create the institution’s value.
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12 June 2015

ASQA by the numbers

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At a recent ACPET forum (9 June), ASQA chief commissioner Chris Robinson provided details of the agency’s regulatory activities since it commenced operations in July 2011.

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RegulationASQA now covers the activities 3898 Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), 85.2 % of all RTOs.   Some 357 RTOs (7.8% ) remain under the jurisdiction of the   Victorian Regulation and Qualifications Authority (the Victorian government is considering options to transfer regulatory responsibility to ASQA, although the numbers covered by the VRQA have declined from 583 in 2011) and 318 RTOs (7%) remain with the WA Training Accreditation Council.

According to Robinson,  to the end of 2014, ASQA had approved about 600 new RTOs but the overall number of RTOs in its jurisdiction had declined by about 400, meaning that, for one reason or another, 1000 existing  RTOs in 2011 had folded by 2014 (this is not actually shown in his presentation).  This includes 83 RTOs whose registration ASQA cancelled and 134 RTOs whose re-registration was refused.

ASQA had received 24159 applications to the end of 2014, 20052 (83%) of which were for change of scope of registration (add or remove qualifications), 2416 (10%) for renewal of registration and 1691 (7%) for initial registration.  ASQA had completed 23,575 (96.7%) of these applications.

ASQA has refused 669 of these applications (about 2.7%) – 142 initial applications, 134 renewal applications and 393 change of scope applications. ASQA says this means 6.1% of renewal applications were refused, 15.1% initial registration applications (although on the above figures, it seems about half that) and about 2% of change of scope applications.

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 12 June 2015

Who should go to university?

 Everyone, or just enough people to fill skilled jobs?

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 We have more people going to university in Australia than ever before. In 1971 only 2% of the population over 15 years old held a Bachelor’s degree, in 2013 it was 25%. Last year a whopping 1,149,300 people were enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree or above.  However, graduate employment rates are falling. This leads many to ask whether too many people are going to university. Should everyone go to university or just the correct number to be able to fill highly skilled jobs in Australia?  asks Leo Goedegebuure (University of Melbourne), writing in The Conversation.

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UNIVERSITY STOCK

 More education, the more benefits for all

Philosophically, I am all in favour of providing a university experience to as many students as possible. The positive external effects of a highly educated population include reduced crime rates and better health outcomes with associated lower public costs. Equally, it leads to stronger societies and communities, stronger democracies and, although slowly, it helps in reducing socio-economic inequalities.

And we should not forget the formative impact that “going to college” has on individuals, ranging from personal growth to greater job satisfaction once graduated.

While universal higher education is a positive goal in many aspects, not everyone will have the ability necessary to complete a degree. A recent report to the US Senate provided a painful reminder that universal tertiary education is not only about enrolling students, but equally about making sure they graduate and that subsequently they are in a position to repay their loans. Repayment, as the data shows, goes hand in hand with completion and finding a job.

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   29 May 2015

Keeping public priorities in public universities

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  The main purposes of Australian public universities — teaching, research and community engagement — are well established in law and practice. But differences of opinion exist on priorities, interpretation and accountability. A key tension is between academics as the strongest advocates of knowledge for its own sake, and government, students and the general public seeking practical uses for knowledge, writes Andrew Norton.

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Academics want to conduct blue sky research, but that’s not why people pay to go to university

Academics want to conduct blue sky research, but that’s not why people pay to go to university. AAP/Julian Smith

For academics, passion for a field of study, opportunity to develop new knowledge, and autonomy in working life are among the most frequent reasons given for pursuing an academic career. These aspirations create resistance to universities pursuing practical objectives set by others.

Academics are much more likely to apply for research grants where new knowledge is the primary outcome than grants aimed at promoting collaboration with industry. Academics criticise universities for becoming more “instrumental”.

The importance to academics of pursuing new knowledge has made teaching a second priority after research. Only 30% of academics say they prefer teaching or lean towards teaching in a teaching and research job. Another survey found that 67% of academics wanted more research time, but only 15% wanted more teaching work.

Although few people seriously dispute that knowledge for its own sake is important, there are broader expectations of public universities. What makes them “public” institutions is their establishment by government to meet a range of needs associated with advanced knowledge.

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Australia dumbs down?

29 May 2015

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  Australia is betting on plumbers and coffee-shop owners over scientists and researchers to drive the nation’s next wave of economic growth, writes Michael Heath in BloombergBusiness.

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Coffee

The country that brought you refrigerators, black-box flight recorders, bionic ears and Wi-Fi will cut its research budget by 7 percent over the next 12 months, and another 10% in the following three years. At the same time it’s offering tax cuts and write-offs in this year’s budget for small firms to buy equipment like espresso machines and lawnmowers as the centerpiece of a plan to build a “stronger and more prosperous Australia.”

The government is reducing spending in the face of budget shortfalls after a 30% drop in commodity prices in 12 months and an end to the country’s mining investment boom. Helping small businesses to pick up some of the slack has lifted consumer confidence to its highest in 16 months and boosted shares of retailers like Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. and JB Hi-Fi Ltd.

“Having this reliance on the bottom end of the economy, like small businesses, is a short-term fix,” said Andrew Hughes, a lecturer at the College of Business and Economics at Australian National University. “Cutting back on research is insanity.”

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Constructive dissent keeps wheels of knowledge turning

21 May 2015

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Steven Schwartz, in looking at the Lomborg centre controversey, recounts a story about Albert Einstein during his Princeton days; he was Steven Schwartzin the habit of posing the same examination questions every year. Confronted by the dean for his apparent laziness, Einstein explained that the questions never changed but the answers frequently did.

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This story is doubtless apocryphal but it makes a crucial point; science is always unfinished business. As they used to say on The X Files, “The truth is out there”— but we can never be entirely certain that we have found it. “Most institutions demand unqualified faith,” said American sociologist Robert Merton. “But the institution of science makes scepticism a virtue.”

The scepticism to which Merton referred is different from mere doubt. Anything can be doubted. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki doubts the connection between AIDS and HIV, which he considers a harmless virus. US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rejects evolution as just a theory. Britain’s Christopher Monckton says green­house gases do not affect climate.

None of these opinions advance our understanding. They are a form of dogmatism, a stubborn clinging to a point of view while rejecting all evidence to the contrary. Scientific scepticism is different. In the words of Eric Ashby, former vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, scientific scepticism relies on “the discipline of constructive dissent”.

Practitioners of constructive dissent do not just oppose entrenched ideas. Using their deep knowledge of a field, careful observations and creative thought, constructive dissenters identify patterns and facts others miss. This is where the “constructive” part comes in. Ashby argued that for dissent to be constructive, “it must shift the state of opinion about a subject in such a way that the experts concur”. In other words, it is not enough for Mbeki to deny a connection between HIV and AIDS; to make a useful contribution to knowledge, he must use his knowledge, observations and creativity to convince experts to change their view.
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quote marksThere is no legal, philosophical or moral reason for universities to provide a platform for every divergent view. Competence is essential for the practice of constructive dissent.

Is Lomborg’s dissent constructive? Does he use cost-benefit analysis appropriately? Do experts accept his reasoning? These are the only relevant questions and, so far, no one has even tried to answer them..

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Budget 2015 (2)

University sector comment

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quote marksResearch programs take a hit as universities and students left in policy limbo.

 

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quote marksDespite more than three quarters of Australians opposing deregulation, and the Senate rejecting their plans for $100,000 degrees twice, the Abbott Government has kept its plans for university deregulation in this year’s budget.

 

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Budget 2015

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ABC News’ comprehensive summary of the 2015 Budget

 

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The Zombies that make the numbers look good

13 May 2015

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Zombies2The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly says the 2015 Budget has “one idea above all else right at its heart and that’s about saving the Abbott government.” Quite clearly The Oz’s stable of writers and analysts think it’s very much about positioning for an early election, should the portents seem promising.

 

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Too right it’s about positioning for an early election. As Fairfax Media’s Peter Martin observes, “the coalition’s second budget is propped up by “zombie measures” from its first. Announced a year ago but not yet passed in the Senate, they are politically dead but not yet formally abandoned, meaning the income or savings they would have raised can be used to dress up the second lot of budget forecasts regardless of reality.”

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Why UWA was right to reject the $4m Lomborg bribe

15 May 2015

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The spectacularly misnamed Australian Consensus Centre (as High Wired has appropriately called it) has been mired in controversey from start to its (apparent). Not a skerrick of consensus to be found anywhere. Critics of the decision by the University of Western Australia to walk away from it decry the decision as “soft censorship”, a denial of academic freedom, suppression of free speech. Well, it’s none of those things: universities are full of “contrarians” such as Bjorn Lomborg, in every field that you could name, and they’re of all persuasions. The objection here is not about Lomborg’s views (although plenty of people inside and outside universities do object), it’s about how he forms his views and how he chooses to portray them (and, to some extent, it’s about the company he keeps). Tristan Edis, the environment writer for Business Spectator, points to the logical flaws in his argument that there are higher priorities for public expenditure that dealing with climate change. Monash University academic Michael Brown says his conclusions aren’t the outcome of robust academic endeavour.

 

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 Lomborg’s false choices

quote marksIf we want advice on how we should best prioritise resources for the greatest good, there are better people to get it from than Bjorn Lomborg. Oh and by the way, they’ll provide this advice without a $4 million price tag.

Lomborg creates a process and set of artificial and arbitrary constraints that drive those involved (including economics Nobel laureates) towards prioritising between a range of things that are all extremely important while ignoring the need to question a far broader array of far less worthwhile and often downright wasteful things.

He is a man who has developed a routine, an act which the media find useful as a contrarian voice to achieve “balanced” reporting. So when a range of scientists and political leaders suggest global warming is a really serious problem, Lomborg jumps in front of the cameras and says something utterly unremarkable and well understood by development economists which seeks to downplay the problem by highlighting another serious problem like, for example, indoor air pollution.

 

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Climate inaction, the one point of consensus

quote marksLomborg’s approach lacks the academic rigour we expect from our top universities.

Lomborg’s Consensus Centre at UWA has been controversial, and many have welcomed the announcement that UWA will not be the centre’s host. While some political warriors are claiming this is a defeat for academic freedom, this is unjustified and overlooks Lomborg’s history.

Lomborg consistently misinterprets and makes selective use of scientific studies, to portray an overly optimistic view of climate change and its costs. The Copenhagen Consensus Centre process includes unrealistic assumptions that, by design, lead to arguments against immediate action on climate change. Lomborg’s approach lacks the academic rigour we expect from our top universities. Despite this, Lomborg is an effective lobbyist and popular with some politicians, so he will continue to have a significant media profile, even without the Australian Consensus Centre.

In a time of tight government spending, one has to wonder if federal dollars for Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre were intended to fund rigorous academic activity, or provide intellectual cover for the government’s inadequate climate change policies.

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Oliver on balancing debate

15 May 2015

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US talk show host John Oliver moderates a mathematically representative climate change debate, with the help of special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy.

 

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Shift happens

Redefining education

14 May 2015

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Digital technology has changed how society relates to knowledge. Deloitte’s Australian Centre for the Edge has investigated how this change in our relationship with knowledge might affect the education sector. Its White Paper, Redefining Education, released on 11 May , explores the future of the education sector and what it means to be ‘educated’.

 

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Deloitte 2Digital technology has changed how society relates to knowledge. Deloitte’s Australian Centre for the Edge has investigated how this change in our relationship with knowledge might affect the education sector. Its White Paper, Redefining Education, released on 11 May , explores the future of the education sector and what it means to be ‘educated’.

Lead author of the paper, Pete Williams, said the changes digital technology is driving might redefine how we view education.

Basically we are finding that the focus on what people know is being replaced by an emphasis on their ability to find and share new knowledge and ideas,At the same time, the relentless rise of digital technology means that traditional means of acquiring an education are being disrupted.

The White Paper identifies two emerging trends that highlight why the sector might be about to go through a change in paradigm.

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Lomborg: dark prince

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 11 May 2015    |     The decision by the University of Western Australia (UWA) to pull out of the Australian Consensus Centre, and hand back $4 million in government funding, has drawn the ire of the usual suspects. 

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Bjorn Lomborg

In particular, The Australian has been positively wetting itself.  It says, in its front page news story in the edition of 11 May, that the decision has “drawn criticism from some academics” and, to prove its point, cites a retired former associate professor, who was apparently outraged at it all.  Killer stuff.  It also features two opinion pieces and an editorial:

…..so far the decision has only shown that the intellectual and political bullying against dissenting views might be even worse in this than we had imagined.

You might might think that Julie Hare,  the estimable editor of the The Oz’s Higher Education supplement, might have something to say about “bullying against dissenting views” but Julie and her team are staying pretty quiet – the reporting and comment is coming from others within The Oz.  And what of  Peter van Onselen, who is not only a contributing editor to The Oz (and one of the better commentators generally in today’s media) but a Winthrop Professor at UWA?   A couple of weeks ago, he adopted a “so what?” attitude, the whole controversey being something of a beat-up, but has not bought into the The Oz’s current outrage (as yet).

But this really isn’t about  “free speech” and “divesrse views” and all the rest The Oz is banging on about:  as van Onselen observes, “Lomborg has points worth making”, which is a valid point.  In part, what it is about is process (such as the government attempting to pass it off as something other than it was), in part it’s about optics (the government stumping up even $4 million for this Centre at a time when it has substantially cut research funding and wants to cut it more) but mainly it’s about Lomborg and his credentials. He has a colourful past,  murky associations and he’s not always straight forward in his presentation  in the way you would expect an academic to be.  Neither is Lomborg a “professor”  as The Oz now styles him: he’s an adjunct professor (at a reputable institution) and, in Australia at least, such a position does not carry the title “professor”.  Here’s some background from Wikipedia and other sources, which seems not to have been refuted.

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Busting the “big government” myth

 8 May 2015

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In the lead-up to the federal budget the government has made it clear it sees the long-term task of fiscal management in terms of cutting expenditure rather than raising revenue. We’ve been repeatedly told the Rudd-Gillard government let spending get out of control, and that we must now rein in outlays and “repair” the budget to avoid a Mediterranean-scale disaster. But according to Ian McAuley and Miriam Lyons (University of Canberra), the reality is that Australia’s public expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, has shown no discernible upward trend for the last 35 years, and that out of comparable high-income developed countries, we have about the smallest public sector and the lowest taxes.

 

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Containing the size of government is a worthy objective only if one sees government as an unproductive overhead, but government is a vital partner in the economy. As economist Paul Samuelson pointed out in his Pure theory of public expenditure there is an optimum public/private mix in any economy, and Australia seems to be a long way from that optimum, which almost certainly lies in the direction of a larger public sector rather than a smaller one.

Public spending – bumpy but not going up

The diagram below shows Commonwealth outlays over the last 45 years. They peaked in the mid 1980s, and have risen and fallen as governments have applied fiscal boosts in response to downturns and economic shocks (such as the global financial crisis) and as they have let the private sector take up the slack as the economy recovers. There has been no upwards trend.

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The UK election

The issue of higher education fees

Mark Leach writes on the Wonkhe website that the collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats in Wonkhethe UK general elections can be attribute, in large part, to the party’s u-turn on the issue of university fees. This has, he says, remarkably little to do with higher education fees and funding policy, particularly when you consider that many of these votes are going to the Conservatives who also supported this policy in government. But fees have come to represent something else in the public consciousness: a basic issue of trust in politics.

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The Victorian VET Funding Review

8 May 2015

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The Victorian Review of VET Funding, headed by former Holmesglen chief Bruce Mackenzie, is due to make an initial report to the government in early June (with its final report at the end of August). Over 750 submissions were made to the review by VET providers, industry and employers, students, teachers, parents and other interested parties, including by TAFE Directors Australia (TDA), representing the public providers, the Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET), representing private RTOs. Funding issues aside, on which there are significant issues, funding issues aside, TDA and ACPET aren’t worlds apart in what they propose.

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TDA submission

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quote marksVictoria’s TAFE Institutes constitute the backbone of a strong, viable and sustainable VET system. Current VET funding is adequate but its distribution must be fundamentally revised.

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ACPET submission

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ACPET supports a diverse and competitive sector to drive quality and innovation….The private VET sector plays a significant role in contributing to the Victorian economy; through the development of the workforce and as well as supporting VET as a major export industry.

 

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A field guide to the budget

8 May 2015

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Richard HoldenWhen the 2015-2016 federal budget is released on May 12 there will be much analysis of specific measures and all sorts of claims and counterclaims about deficits and debt will be made. The following “field guide” to the federal budget by Richard Holden, UNSW Australia Business School attempts to provide a taxonomy of the issues and help make some sense out of the sea of numbers to come.

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Struggling to separate your Future Funds from your forward estimates? AAP/Joel Carrett

Struggling to separate your Future Funds from your forward estimates? AAP/Joel Carrett

Legislation

The most obvious thing about the budget is that most components of it — especially the big-ticket items – require legislation. And as we saw last year, it’s far from obvious that in this polarised political climate that even issues that have support from the Labor Party will be passed. That’s a shame, and it leaves in the wind the Greens, who can’t even get behind indexing petrol excise to inflation — a policy which is perhaps the most economically sensible that this government has proposed. It’s good economics and good for the environment. But the Greens are against it. So basically the budget is what lawyers call “an invitation to treat”. It’s the starting point of a negotiation.

Forward Estimates

The budget papers will contain estimates of the budget surplus or deficit over four years. This is the so-called forward estimate period. This requires making assumptions about a bunch of macroeconomic variables that are far from certain. What will GDP growth be? What will the exchange rate be? What will inflation be?

You might ask why that last item, inflation, matters. That’s because it affects “bracket creep” where higher nominal incomes lead to higher taxes, despite no inflation-adjusted (or “real”) benefit. I have said elsewhere that this is a fiscal pillow for lazy treasurers because it delivers an inbuilt tax increase every year. So if there looks like there’s some good news in years three and four that’s probably because the government is: (a) assuming growth will be higher than it’s likely to be; and (b) because they are raising your taxes.

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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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The Conversation | 23 March 2015

More or less regulation?

Seeking coherence in tertiary education

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The federal government’s proposed higher education reforms failed spectacularly in the Senate again last week. Before the government tries a third time to secure support for a policy that has been difficult to sell, Swinburne University vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson write that the government needs to learn from past mistakes in the tertiary education sector and think carefully about how to move forward.

 

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Academy

Australians rejected deregulation because it wasn’t fair for all

The debate has advanced since the government’s proposed changes to university funding were first unveiled in the 2014 budget. The public is much better informed about the systemic underfunding of Australian universities.

It is also much more widely accepted now that fee deregulation of the kind proposed is likely to result in significant fee increases for students. The architect of the HECS system, Bruce Chapman, has consistently argued this throughout this long debate.

The potential for the proposed policy changes to be highly inflationary was evident immediately upon the unveiling of the package last May, when I wrote:

We do not support full fee deregulation for Australian undergraduate degrees. Full fee deregulation will inevitably lead to much higher fees for our students […] Our system of higher education should continue to encourage fees which are not out of reach for those capable Australians who aspire to university study.

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12 February 2015

How to break the higher education impasse

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The fragile consensus within Universities Australia around support for the government’s fee deregulation package has begun to fracture (it was always chimerical), with Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins proposing a “third way” between a high degree of regulation and unfettered regulation that combines managed deregulation with a stronger equity package and oversight. Canberra’s Stephen Parker has opposed the package from the get-go, with a number of other vice-chancellors having expressed reservations, including Swinburne vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson (Swinburne), Jane den Hollander (Deakin) and most recently University of Technology, Sydney, vice-chancellor Attila Brungs. While the government early in the year indicated that passage of the deregulation package would be “front and centre” of its agenda with the resumption of Parliament, after the recent prime ministerial wobble, the government is likely to be more amenable to substantial amendments, including managed deregulation (essentially a fee cap), in order to demonstrate its new found commitment to caring and sharing. Certainly managed deregulation would seem to resonate with independent senator Nick Xenophon’s thinking (who one suspects will be pivotal to brokering some sort of settlement). The question will be what’s dumped from the package, which currently includes extension of subsidies to sub-degree courses and higher education courses at non-university providers.

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Fees pay-here

Higher education reform in Australia has entered a delicate phase. The current impasse must be broken, but any move to do so too quickly carries the risk of an outcome that serves neither students nor universities. Most feared in the sector is the worst of both worlds, a scenario of funding cuts without any fee increases.

The best outcome is not to move to unfettered deregulation, which without safeguards would seriously risk disadvantaging many students. Nor is it a return to a highly regulated system. Instead we should pursue a sensible “third way” that combines managed deregulation with a stronger equity package and oversight.

In a world of tight government budgets and an expanding tertiary sector, the case for higher contributions from students, supported by income-contingent loans, has been convincingly argued. What is important is that, in the process, students get an enhanced education and good returns on their investment.

Unfortunately the form of deregulation proposed in the government’s initial package carried very significant risks. These included:

  • over-pricing and excessive debts
  • greater opportunities for already high-achieving students and inferior opportunities for those who need more support
  • greater opportunities for students from high socioeconomic backgrounds and weaker opportunities for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds
  • insufficient amounts of extra revenue going into improving teaching and learning and the student experience
  • some waste of public funds due to poor attention to effective transition to the new market system
  • higher education benefiting but vocational education being damaged.

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12 February 2015

The sorry state of the market

invisible_hand_of_the_market1-300x199With the recent Productivity Commission Report on Government Services showing VET enrolments declining in 2013 by more than 60,000 (3.9 %) – admittedly after some years of growth – a report by Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney – commissioned by the Australian Education Union – shows that large private training college chains have been generating extraordinary profit margins on the back of their recent access to public subsidies.

The report says the profit margins leveraged from public subsidies at three listed training companies — Vocation, Australian Careers Network and Ashley Institute of Training — averaged 35% in 2013. Victorian government funding of for-profit colleges had jumped from $137m in 2008 to $799m in 2013. Victorian government subsidi¬es bankrolled $606m in private college profits between 2011 and 2013.

Lead author Serena Yu said governments had opened up the training market to improve the accessibility, quality, affordability, respons¬iveness and transparency of delivery. “I can say emphatically that none of those have happened,” said Ms Yu.

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MYEFO budget measures

australian-dollar-3dThe Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), released on 15 December, updates the economic and fiscal outlook from the budget in May. Following is a summary prepared by ACPET of savings and expenditure measures relevant to the education, employment and training sectors.

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Comment & analysis

18 December 2014

Higher education changes a ‘fraud on the electorate’

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Stephen Parker, vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, has been a loud, lone dissenting voice among the vice-chancellors over the government’s higher education deregulation package, strenuously opposing from the start, describing it as “a potentially calamitous package” for students and the country. He’s been particularly critical of the qualified support offered by Universities Australia, which he depicts as “an organisation with necrotizing fasciitis – the condition where the body eats its own flesh”. And he says the peak organisation is doomed, having lost its “moral compass” and that he won’t be attending further meetings. Parker expanded on the theme in a speech delivered to the National Alliance for Public Universities on 1 December.

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 Michelle McAulay/AAP Image

Michelle McAulay/AAP Image

Had someone told me last summer that I would be defending public universities on the first day of next summer I would have ridiculed the idea.

Somehow I believed what the Coalition wrote in early 2013: that there would be no change to university funding arrangements. Somehow I believed what Tony Abbott said to the Universities Australia conference in March 2013: that we could expect a period of benign neglect from an Abbott government. And somehow I believed what Abbott said two days before the election in September 2013: that there would be no cuts to education.

It is the last of these canards that is so shocking. Abbott knew he was going to win, so he didn’t even need to promise it to gain votes.

But here we are and here I am.

A further surprise has been to find myself the only Vice-Chancellor to say publicly what at least a few actually believe. I have tried to understand other Vice-Chancellors’ perspectives. I’ve worked at Group of Eight and more modern universities. I was the Senior DVC at Monash. I know the pressures, but nothing justifies the position that they and Universities Australia have taken.

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University funding system in England ‘not sustainable”

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The funding system for higher education in England is not sustainable and a better funding model must be developed, according to a critical report by the Higher Education Commission.

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Too good

The UK coalition government’s decision to allow fees to triple in 2012-13, and the system of student loans and grants developed alongside the hike, was supposed to lead to a more marketised system of higher education, raising standards while pushing prices down, resulting in better qualified graduates for less money. The report concludes:

This has not happened. Introducing market forces to a sector that does not operate as a market puts the financial sustainability of the sector at risk; the commission recommends retreating from this notion.

The reports says that with little in the way of career advice or access to information, students do not feel or act like consumers and brand plays too big a role in the decision of which university to go to. Demand continues to outstrip supply and there is less choice for students than is perceived.

The “experiment” underway in higher education could have “consequences stretching decades into the future”, the report warns.

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4 December 2014

Fee deregulation a bad idea, but our universities do need reform

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Education minister Christopher Pyne’s scheme for the deregulation of university fees is dead or delayed, writes Hannah Forsyth (Australian Catholic University) in The Conversation. But that doesn’t obviate the need for fundamental reform.

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AUSTRALIA - UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY PROTEST

The Pyne deregulation package has been exposed as bad for Australia. This is because it will put universities in a spot where they need to increase their fees, continually. They will have to, just to compete with one another on the thing everyone wants: quality.

Improving quality by increasing fees means the cost will eventually outweigh the benefit of going to university. Yet what choice will young people have? If they want a decent job, a large proportion of Australia’s youth will be compelled to pay whatever fees universities charge.

Pyne’s deregulation was a scheme that would hold the middle class to ransom. And if the middle class is in trouble, you can bet it is going to be bad for anyone who falls below that. Those who care about the poor in Australia were rightly appalled: the ideas to compensate for the effect of deregulation on equity groups were tokenistic at best.

The Pyne debacle has, however, exposed other flaws in our higher education system.

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University funding system in England ‘not sustainable”

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The funding system for higher education in England is not sustainable and a better funding model must be developed, according to a critical report by the Higher Education Commission.

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Too good

The UK coalition government’s decision to allow fees to triple in 2012-13, and the system of student loans and grants developed alongside the hike, was supposed to lead to a more marketised system of higher education, raising standards while pushing prices down, resulting in better qualified graduates for less money. The report concludes:

This has not happened. Introducing market forces to a sector that does not operate as a market puts the financial sustainability of the sector at risk; the commission recommends retreating from this notion.

The reports says that with little in the way of career advice or access to information, students do not feel or act like consumers and brand plays too big a role in the decision of which university to go to. Demand continues to outstrip supply and there is less choice for students than is perceived.

The “experiment” underway in higher education could have “consequences stretching decades into the future”, the report warns.

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4 December 2014

Fee deregulation a bad idea, but our universities do need reform

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Education minister Christopher Pyne’s scheme for the deregulation of university fees is dead or delayed, writes Hannah Forsyth (Australian Catholic University) in The Conversation. But that doesn’t obviate the need for fundamental reform.

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AUSTRALIA - UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY PROTEST

The Pyne deregulation package has been exposed as bad for Australia. This is because it will put universities in a spot where they need to increase their fees, continually. They will have to, just to compete with one another on the thing everyone wants: quality.

Improving quality by increasing fees means the cost will eventually outweigh the benefit of going to university. Yet what choice will young people have? If they want a decent job, a large proportion of Australia’s youth will be compelled to pay whatever fees universities charge.

Pyne’s deregulation was a scheme that would hold the middle class to ransom. And if the middle class is in trouble, you can bet it is going to be bad for anyone who falls below that. Those who care about the poor in Australia were rightly appalled: the ideas to compensate for the effect of deregulation on equity groups were tokenistic at best.

The Pyne debacle has, however, exposed other flaws in our higher education system.

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University funding system in England ‘not sustainable”

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The funding system for higher education in England is not sustainable and a better funding model must be developed, according to a critical report by the Higher Education Commission.

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Too good

The UK coalition government’s decision to allow fees to triple in 2012-13, and the system of student loans and grants developed alongside the hike, was supposed to lead to a more marketised system of higher education, raising standards while pushing prices down, resulting in better qualified graduates for less money. The report concludes:

This has not happened. Introducing market forces to a sector that does not operate as a market puts the financial sustainability of the sector at risk; the commission recommends retreating from this notion.

The reports says that with little in the way of career advice or access to information, students do not feel or act like consumers and brand plays too big a role in the decision of which university to go to. Demand continues to outstrip supply and there is less choice for students than is perceived.

The “experiment” underway in higher education could have “consequences stretching decades into the future”, the report warns.

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Senate committee report on uni fees

Sector responses

30 October 2014Fee increase2

It’s hardly news that all the university groups are as one that there is no alternative to fee deregulation to provide the funding to maintain the quality of Australian higher education (given declining public funding). They are not as one on how the proposed Commonwealth Scholarship scheme funding (provided by students) should be divvied up: the Group of 8 and ATN argue the money should be held and disbursed by the collecting institution, the RUN and IRU argue that it should be pooled and disbursed on a needs basis.

quote marksLet’s not kick the can down the road for another generation to grapple with and risk the quality and competitiveness of our higher education system.

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31 October 2014

Senate committee: pass higher education bill with amendments

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The Senate inquiry into the government’s proposed suite of changes to higher education has now reported. The committee came up with five recommendations, some of which were foreshadowed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne and by media reports but which Pyne has since discounted.  Gwilym Croucher summarises the report and the issues that confront the crossbenchers who will decide the outcome.

 

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In the wake of a Senate committee report, Christopher Pyne faces an uphill battle to get his higher education legislation through. AAP

In the wake of a Senate committee report, Christopher Pyne faces an uphill battle to get his higher education legislation through. AAP

 

What does the report say?

The committee, chaired by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, recommends that the bill be passed, but in doing so also suggests some adjustments to the bill. It first recommends that in developing the guidelines for the Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme, the government should address:

… financial barriers faced by students from low SES [socioeconomic status] backgrounds and regional communities.

The report calls for preferential access for students living away from home and those having faced low-socioeconomic disadvantage.

The report goes on to recommend that the government develop a structural adjustment package to provide funds for providers to transition to a “fully deregulated system”. As has been widely speculated, the report suggests this tailored assistance should cater to regional and rural students and students facing disadvantage.

A key recommendation in the report is the re-examination of the HELP indexation rate, which the current bill proposes to be matched to the cost of borrowing for the government (the 10-year bond rate).

Alongside this, the report recommends that HELP debt be recovered from Australians living overseas, a measure explored by Andrew Norton.

The Greens and the ALP both provide dissenting reports. The Labor senators on the panel, as was to be expected from their public comments, argue that the Senate should reject the bill in its present form. In doing this, they propose that the government introduce a separate bill, which will “deal with the non-controversial matters”.

By this, the Labor senators mean extending funding for research through the Future Fellowships scheme, changes to HECS for certain New Zealand citizens and the change of name for Federation University. The first of these is most problematic. Pyne has indicated that funding for research announced in the budget may not be forthcoming if the bill fails to pass. This is a situation that would have deep ramifications for Australia’s research effort and clearly something no side wants to be seen as responsible for.

The Greens go further in their recommendations, suggesting too that the bill be rejected by the Senate but calling for an inquiry to investigate the benefits of funding increases and, to match long-held Greens aspirations, the abolition of student fees altogether.

The committee’s report recognises that while the demand-driven system is an historic achievement, it comes at a significant cost to public revenue. The main report and dissenting reports acknowledge in different ways that the current state of affairs is ultimately unsustainable.

So what does this all mean?

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31 October 2014

Uni fee deregulation will result in choice and value?

Don’t hold your breath, says Schwartz

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Steven SchwartzSteven Schwartz was vice-chancellor of Macquarie University from 2006 to 2012 and is currently director of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Interestingly he is an academic advisor to Centre for Independent Studies, libertarian thinktank “actively engaged in supporting a free enterprise economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents”. With this background, you’d think Schwartz would be a natural proponent of university fee deregulation. You’d think wrong . In this opinion piece published in The Australian on 29 October Schwartz demonstrates himself to be somewhat of a sceptic that fee deregulation will result in a market in which price will reflect course value.

 

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In 1989, the federal government set undergraduate university fees at $1800 a year. If prices had increased in line with inflation, the fee today would be $3481.

Instead, university fees range from $6044 to $10,085, vastly outstripping inflation.

This stratospheric increase would be an argument for government-mandated price controls except for one problem: the government did control univer­sity fees during the entire 25-year period. And it still does.

Without government price ceilings, university fees would have soared even higher. Vice-chancellors certainly wanted them to. If university prices are deregulated, as the government proposes, they will get their chance.

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Higher fees will not make Sydney University a fairer institution – NTEU

 

27 October 2014

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The National Tertiary Education Union has disputed the vice-chancellor’s claims that deregulation will make the University of Sydney a fairer and more open institution.

 

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Go8 Equity scalesMichael Spence, vice -chancellor of The Sydney University has said that if the government’s higher education policies are passed then his university will be able to use increased student fee income to double the amount it spends on student scholarships from $80m to $160m and increase the number of students eligible for equity based scholarships from 700 to 9,000.

But the National Tertiary Education Union says that the “simple arithmetic” of the new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme does not add up.

Under the Abbott government’s proposed Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme, universities would be required to set aside 20% of increased student fees for disadvantaged student scholarships. The 20% applies to increased fee income above that necessary to offset the 20% cut in funding per student in the government’s higher education legislation currently before the Senate.

According to the NTEU, the latest financial data shows Sydney currently receives about $300m in fee income from Commonwealth supported students. This would need increase by 30% ($90m) just to compensate for cuts to government funding. In order to raise Spence’s $80m for the Commonwealth Scholarship scheme fee income would have to rise by $400m. In other words, total fee income would need to increase from around $300m to about $790m, or about 160%, for the University to fulfil its commitments to doubling the value of scholarships from $80m to $160m.

Given that the average Commonwealth supported student contribution is in the order of $8,000, the NTEU calculates  this would mean that the average student fee would have to increase to about $20,800 or on average by $12,800 per student.

 However, if Sydney University wants to give a scholarship to one third (about 9,000) of its students, then the average value of each scholarship funded from the fee increase is about $8,900 per student.

That is, on average all students will be worse off. For the two thirds of students who do not receive a scholarship, they will be paying $12,800 on average more than they are under the current arrangements. And for students in receipt of a scholarship, they will be on average $3,400 worse off than they are now.

The NTEU has published an analysis which it says shows the design of the scholarship scheme is structurally flawed because universities with the highest proportion of disadvantaged students cannot offer the same value or number of scholarships as universities with lower numbers of disadvantaged students.

See
The simple arithmetic of inequity 

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University fees and participation: study of nine countries

 13 October 2014

Go8 logo

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The Group of Eight is working overtime making the case that fee deregulation would be “good”, won’t really affect students much –  what, with income contingent loans, they’ll hardly notice – and won’t have a deleterious impact on participation by people from low SES backgrounds.  This latest note is based principally on a study by Canadian higher education analyst Alex Usher.  Usher was recently in Australia and, while not “alarmist” , neither was he insouciant about the likely impact of the passage of the government’s higher education package:

HECS will still insulate students from the main financial consequences of the new fees, and so, as in Britain, they will likely absorb the higher fees with very little effect on enrolment. As a result, institutions will push the fee levels quite high because they can do so without fear of losing students (the exception will be students who learn at a distance – which is a more significant chunk of the student body in Australia than it is in most other OECD countries). The likelihood is that they will get quite close to the international student level – and they will do so at nearly all institutions.

The real question is: what will institutions do with that money? The likelihood is that every penny of the extra $5,000 – $10,000 per year students will be asked to pay will be ploughed back into research for prestige reasons. It won’t be the access disaster some are predicting, but it’s a bad deal for students nonetheless.

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Following the introduction of HECS, and changes to the system in the 1990s and again in 2005, several studies examined the impact of tuition fees on participation in higher education.  In particular, studies looked at the impact of fees on participation by people from low SES backgrounds.  In short, the literature finds that the reintroduction of tuition fees in 1989, and changes in 1997 and 2005, did not have a lasting impact on participation in general or by low SES students in particular.  Studies have found that income-contingent loans largely take fees out the equation: since fees can be deferred, they do not present a barrier to access.  Further, research finds that the persistent under-representation of low SES people in higher education is explained by limited opportunities at school as well as beliefs about the value of higher education, more than concerns about the cost.

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Submissions to the Senate Inquiry

The Conversation   |      30 September 2014

Submissions1

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Submissions to the Senate’s inquiry into the higher education reform bill have now closed. The inquiry is now conducting public hearings throughout Australia and is to report to the Senate on 28 October. Here, Tim Pitman overviews the 163 submissions received.  The Scan has extracted some key points from about 50 of these submissions (something we will never, ever attempt again).

 

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The key elements of the bill are outlined here but in essence it seeks to greatly deregulate the higher education sector by allowing universities to set their own maximum fees for undergraduate domestic students and increasing competition between public and private providers. If passed, the legislation will shift a greater proportion of the cost of higher education onto the student and increase the way in which interest accumulates on student debt. The changes will also increase competition by opening up the sector to private providers of higher education.

At the time of publication more than 130 submissions have been made public. The majority are against most of the proposed reforms. But the real tale of the tape is in how those submissions break down across the various stakeholder groups. They give great insight into who thinks they will win, or lose, if the bill is passed.

The summaries below refer to the majority opinion of each of the stakeholder groups. In most groups, opposing views were expressed in the minority.

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 The best compromise for HELP loan interest rates

    25 September 2014

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 The government’s plan to charge up to 6% interest on HELP loans has been widely attacked as unfair. Many critics, including Shadow Education Minister Kim Carr, the Group of Eight universities, Universities Australia and HECS architect Bruce Chapman, have come out against pegging HELP loans to the bond rate, rather than CPI as it is now. Geoff Sharrock of the LH Martin Institute sets out a compromise.

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Interest rates

In the government’s Senate negotiations, a good compromise would apply CPI plus 1 percentage point to all HELP debts. The savings would tap a larger pool of graduates, not just those likely to face higher fees and larger loans in the future.

At lower real interest than the cases described here, CPI plus 1% may still bridge much of the gap between the two rates. In the last 10 years CPI ranged from 1.2% to 5%, and the bond rate from 3% to 6.5%. In the last two and a half years CPI ranged from 1.2% to 3%, and the bond rate from 2.9% to 4.3%.

CPI plus 1% would also give graduates an incentive to repay HELP debts as soon as they can, not just the minimum required. The risk is notably higher repayment costs for those who don’t clear their debts in say 20 years. But at 1% the real interest risk is less than with the Group of Eight 1.4% scenarios.

If the Senate agreed to this “1% solution” the budget savings would still be substantial. This would allow more scope to minimise subsidy cuts, another savings proposal that shifts costs to students. In turn this would reduce the risk of higher tuition fees, and higher HELP debts in the first place.

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Sector submissions to the Senate Inquiry

$ sign

Initial reporting on the University of Western Australia’s proposed fee structure, announced to a Senate committee inquiry, was tentative, ambiguous and/or wrong: for example, ABC News reported it as a fee increase of “30%”. In the absence of any documentation, The Scan noted “we don’t know whether that’s the total price (student contribution plus commonwealth subsidy) or the proposed student contribution. If the former, that’s an increase of around 30% for a degree in humanities disciplines , if the latter…. that’s an increase of 160% (based on the 2015 student contribution of $6152 pa – $18,456 over three years)”. We were soon able to confirm it was the 160% scenario. We agree with The Australian that UWA’s presentation of this has a “tinge of insincerity” to it, proclaiming that “UWA is offering future students the opportunity to obtain a three-year undergraduate degree from one of the world’s top 100 universities for less than $50,000” – leaving out the material fact, that, under current arrangements, you can get an undergraduate degree from UWA in the humanities for under $20,000 or in science for about $26,000. UWA’s media statement points to the fact that “all UWA undergraduate degrees lead to a range of professional degrees at postgraduate level with a high level of flexibility” ,which leads directly to the “$100,000” degree outcome which education minister and advocates of full fee deregulation have consistently decried as “scaremongering”. This is neatly explained in The Australian’s High Wired blog, which as always cuts to the chase, with a bit of edge. One point High Wired calculates the current cost of a law at UWA as $82,198: we think it’s somewhat less, with an Arts degree followed by law currently coming in at $65,646. This is not cheap: students who are currently studying for in an arts-law or economics-law combination at most other Group of Eight universities, such as Monash, Sydney, Queensland or Adelaide, would pay around $53,000).

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Fee free-for-all a risky strategy

19  September 2014

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Cap needed to take the idea of $100,000 degrees off the table

Andrew Dempster(Swinburne University) argues that a cap on fees needs to be considered to avoid universities competing solely on price, which would see all universities move to or near the price set by first movers, in order to maintain reputational value.  He suggest it’s no accident that the current fee for an Australian student to study a Bachelor of Business at Bond University is $95,568, which is almost identical to the maximum HELP borrowing limit of $96,000 for such a degree.

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mortar board

 

 

Long-time watchers of Australian higher education know that only one thing really gets the public excited – how much students pay to go to university. It’s where public policy meets the hip pocket. So far as universities are concerned, it’s the only barbeque stopper we’ve got.

Kicking off this debate is not for the faint-hearted. It’s made Christopher Pyne the most politically courageous education minister Australia has seen since John Dawkins.

Twenty-five years ago, Dawkins took on the yoke of reform when he introduced the user-pays principle, creating a system of financing Australian higher education which has delivered stable, long-term growth.

Pyne’s ambition is an order of magnitude bigger than this. What the government is proposing is bold but it is also fraught with risk. It’s a bit like attempting a high dive at a degree of difficulty of 9.0 with smoke obscuring the water below.

The decision to move rapidly to a position of full fee deregulation, rather than setting new maximum limits on fees, is allowing opponents to fan public sentiment against the proposed changes. Nobody likes the idea of $100,000 degrees and it’s this contention which, if unanswered, may be enough to sink the reforms or to seriously delay them.

Underpinning the government’s narrative is a strong belief that the market will produce downward pressure on fees and that over time there will emerge clear differences between what Australian universities are prepared to charge their students for an undergraduate degree.

If the government has this right, there is little for people to worry about. If the government has this wrong, the country can buckle down for a period of rapid fee inflation.

A lot of faith is being placed in the ability of a new insurgent band of private colleges to offer higher education cheaper and better than incumbent universities – threatening to erode universities’ market share unless they respond by competing with the private colleges on price.

This is a big ask, both of the private colleges and universities themselves.

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19 September 2014

Meanwhile, in the US…

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With a furious debate going on about university fee deregulation in Australia, the US system of fee deregulation, lauded by the proponents of fee deregulation, has seen student debt in the US surpass debt from credit cards and auto-loans, and become second only to mortgages.

US talk show host John Oliver advises US college students to enjoy themselves – to party and to get out and about:

 

Please, make sure your colleges years are the best ones of your life, because thanks to the debt we are saddling you with, they almost certainly will be.

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For a summary :
Drink Beer, Shoot Fireworks Out Your Bum: John Oliver’s Uni Debt Warning

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 Higher education reforms face mounting odds

    19  September 2014

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Crunch time has arrived for the government’s higher education reforms. Having passed in the House of Representatives, the legislation is now being kicked around the Senate like the football it  has become, having been referred to a committee.  Geoff Sharrock (LH Martin Institute) at the policy trade-offs that might be necessary to get the package through.

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The accompanying table shows the package as a balancing act of spending and saving. Politically, the odds are stacked against the three major reforms: higher HELP loan interest rates Higher education budget(Policy 7), cuts to the amount of public subsidy (Policy 6) and fee deregulation (Policy 5).

Universities Australia has called on the Senate to support fee deregulation, keep loan interest charges linked to the consumer price index rather than the bond rate, and moderate subsidy cuts “to reduce upward price pressure on fees”.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s dilemma is clear. The two main sources of budget savings – higher interest rates and lower subsidies – each amplify the risk of larger HELP debts, undermining support for fee deregulation. Yet without savings the other spending measures will exceed the budget bottom line.

In the Senate a spectrum of positions can be found. Some are utopian. Free higher education, a world away from decades of Labor and Coalition policy, is sought by the Greens and the Palmer United Party. If adopted, an analysis by the Group of Eight universities sees this adding $5 billion a year to the current $6.6 billion spent on subsidies.

Apart from fee deregulation, most spending measures in the table have wide support, Policy 1 in particular. While not a reform – it retains Labor policy to let institutions offer subsidised places without limit – this is a costly decision. As the graph shows, even with subsidy cuts, the budgeted expenditure for grants plus HELP lending rises from less than $6.4 billion in 2013-14 to more than $9 billion in 2017-18.

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Australia’s tertiary education system needs a rethink

19   September 2014

 

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The reform of Australia’s federation is under review. In a special series, The Conversation has asked leading Australian academics to begin a debate on renewing federalism, from tax reform to the broader issues of democracy.   Victoria University’s Peter Noonan examines the effect of the funding relationship between the state and Commonwealth on tertiary education and says funding of vocational education is suffering given neither the state nor Federal government has sole responsibility.  

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 federalisme

A major imbalance exists in Australia’s tertiary education system. Left unaddressed it will lead to growing disparities in funding between higher education and vocational education and training, distort student choices and create an imbalance in skills in the Australian labour market.

An effective tertiary education system would comprise a range of high quality courses and providers operating across the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education sectors under an equitable funding system.

What would an effective funding system look like?

An effective tertiary education funding system should have three main features:

  1. Public subsidies that balance public and private benefits, course costs and the circumstances of individual students
  2. Private contributions supported by income contingent student loans that ensure that students only pay when they start to get personal benefits
  3. Student income support targeted to the needs and circumstances of individual students.

There is already great diversity of courses and providers across the Australian tertiary education system with growing and better connections between the sectors. The Commonwealth also operates a consistent and comprehensive student income support system for tertiary education students.

But the potential of this system is undermined by growing divergence in how, and at what levels, VET and higher education are funded, and how, and at what level, the states fund their VET systems.

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TAFE :the essential ingredient

8  September 2014

 

TAFE and other govt

Non Tafe Students by state

Click images to enlarge

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In late April 2012, the Victorian Coalition government, building on the skills reform initiative of its Labor predecessor, unleashed its own radical model of vocational education and training (VET) market reforms.  Basically, these reforms opened up the public funding of VET to virtually all comers and removed any dedicated funding to sustain the public character of TAFE (the public VET provider network).  Most commentators predicted that these reforms would undermine the TAFE sector and, with it, the whole VET system.  After the passage of a couple of years, those commentators can say, on the available evidence, “we told you so”.

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Now, I’m relatively agnostic as to the efficacy – or otherwise – of a market orientation in VET provision: in policy terms, it doesn’t matter what institution is delivering a qualification – public or private, TAFE or university, domiciled in a particular jurisdiction or some other – so long as it represents value in terms of both cost and quality.

So I don’t come from the perspective of denigrating training provision by private registered training organisations (RTOs) nor seek to insulate TAFE from competition from RTOs:  RTOs can and do add useful diversity, innovation and choice to the overall system.

It follows that governments should be equally agnostic but that appears not always to be the case.

TAFE, as the public provider network, underpins the whole VET system (which is widely acknowledged by industry) and contributes to the public good in numerous tangible and intangible ways that private RTOs do not, to which some governments appear largely or entirely  blind.

Present moves to contestability of public VET funding do present fundamental challenges for the public TAFE sector which need to recognised and addressed in appropriate ways.  In Victoria, which is most advanced of the jurisdictions along the path of contestability and with its radical outlier model, the TAFE system is wobbling mightily, with declining overall enrolments, mounting financial losses and incipient signs of market failure.

One TAFE leader has expressed doubts that TAFE can survive in Victoria.

Publicly provided TAFE will survive, for the time being at least, but it in greatly diminished form.  We can see already that many of the TAFEs have become “residualised”, with underutilised assets and need special assistance to cover declining revenues.  This runs counter, of course, to the logic of “marketisation” and it runs counter to Australia’s economic and social interests.

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In the past, TAFEs have been instruments of public policy, in a way that private RTOs have not been and, I would suggest, never will be. TAFEs have also been described as “bulwarks against market failure.

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VET funding in Australia and the role of TAFE

5  September 2014

 

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Policy neglect and funding cuts are steadily eroding Australia’s vocational education and training sector, according to VET sector veteran and now academic Peter Noonan.

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Noonan told the TDA national conference that VET students, many from poor backgrounds, are at risk of having a “hoax” perpetrated on them as government training subsidies are progressively cut and they are forced to pay rising fees while funding for schools and universities has soared.

Underscoring the scale of the under-investment in VET, Noonan said between 2004 and last year total operating spending by all governments rose by about 15 per cent to $6.8 billion a year, but that was dwarfed by a 23 per cent rise in school spending to $40bn a year and a 40 per cent rise in higher education spending to $23bn a year.

On a per-student basis, spending has gone backwards. Between 1999 and 2011 per student government VET spending fell by 25 per cent against a 30 per cent rise in spending per primary school student and a 20 per cent rise per secondary school student. In higher education, per student spending has been largely flat.

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As one senior state department officer observed in relation to the defunding of an important VET Diploma: “of course students will have an entitlement – they will be entitled to a full fee place at a provider of their choice”.

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The 34 hour diploma

2 September 2014

 

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Anthony Klan’s account  account of how he became a rigdy didge certified financial planner in 34 hours, with  no exams, the course completed entirely online and “open-book” — and with no requirement for a high school certificate (or even a passing grade in primary school for that matter).  And he didn’t cheat.

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 Anthony Klan, government-certified, ‘nationally accredited’, financial adviser. Source: The Australian

Anthony Klan, government-certified, ‘nationally accredited’, financial adviser. Source: The Australian

I Google financial planning education. I decide to give Integrity Education Group a miss — its website told me its Diploma of ­Financial planning “provides anyone” seeking to become an adviser with the necessary compliance “to beomce (sic) ASIC registered as an Authoprised (sic) Represetnative (sic)”.

Instead, I approach the Monarch Institute.

I’m told of the price of the ­diploma of financial planning The diploma cost $1425 (more than double, $2950, if you sign up to a handful of face-to-face workshops). The $1425 includes “both personal and general advice”, a distinction that has chewed up its fair share of parliamentary and media time this year.

For an extra $175 — and “an extra 30-40 minutes of reading time”, I am told by the education provider — I could also become a provider of self-managed super­annuation fund advice.

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Fairness and equity must remain guiding principles

  29 August 2014

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Quentin BryceWe need to carefully think through the ramifications before we deregulate university fees, to ensure that the right balance is struck.The risk we must be wary of with a de-regulatory agenda is that education does not become unaffordable for many Australians, especially those in regional and rural communities, and the rapidly expanding corridors of our metropolitan cities and for indigenous people.

–      Former governor general Quentin Bryce – 2014 Richard Larkins Oration 27 August 2014

 

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Paralysis by analysis

29 August 2014

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I was recently introduced to the term “paralysis by analysis”, which put me in mind of the vocational education and training sector. VET must surely be the most officially inquired into, reported and advised on – and “reformed” – activity in Autstralia.  At any time, in recent years at least, there some sort of government initiated inquiry going on in one of the nine jurisdictions (the Commonwealth and eight states and territories).

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 analysis paralysis

Commonwealth industry minister Ian Macfarlane recently announced the appointment of a five-member Vocational Education and Training Advisory Board, charged with providing  feedback to the government as it continues reforms to the sector.

He  said, in particular, that  the government is focussed on” ensuring industry has a stronger voice in the VET system”, so that it “is efficient and effective in delivering the job-ready workers that industry needs”.

You have to read the sub-text of that as being industry doesn’t have a strong influence in VET and that it is not efficient and effective in delivering job- ready workers.

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Comment & analysis

Getting higher ed reforms fit to fly

25 August 2014

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Linda K2 Professor Linda Kristjanson, vice-chancellor, Swinburne University of Technology proposes five key changes to the federal government’s higher education package – including a maximum cap on student fees and moderating proposed changes to student loans interest rates.

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One of Swinburne University’s subject strengths is aviation, and so when our researchers see an interesting new aircraft design one of the first things they ask is: will it fly?

That’s the question that confronts anyone considering the higher education reform package that formed part of the recent federal budget.

Will it give Australia a better educated and higher-skilled population? Will it give us higher quality research to prevent disease, create better products and solve pressing social problems? And will it do these things whilst encouraging innovation and providing better value for money? Will the deregulated system work? In other words: will it fly?

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Ivory Tower

  28 August 2014

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There are many aspects of the US system of higher education which are admirable and which we in Australia should seek to adapt to our own circumstances – such as a liberal arts education (which includes sciences) as a precursor to a professional qualification and community colleges.    And we are.  However, the US system of financing what they call “tuition” is somewhat more problematic: it’s a big mainstream political issue in the US, as shown in a recent documentary which featured at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The pre-release publicity for this documentary describes its a its “a must see for every parent and student facing the daunting task of selecting (and eventually paying for) their future education”. It’s a must see, really,  for our legislators in coming to an informed decision about the architecture of the deregulated system currently before the Parliament, so we’ll be sending it on to legislators and the minister. We encourage you to forward it on as well, to colleagues, friends and acquaintances.  This isn’t a film that will be played in cinemas but click the “read more” button for release and access details.

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Balancing act by universities can neutralise the effects of funding cuts

 29 August 2014

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Fairfax Media  reported on 26 August on “leaked modelling” presented to a “confidential briefing” conducted by the LH Martin Institute that would see elite universities (the Group of Eight)  reap massive benefits from higher education deregulation, while less elite universities, particularly regional universities, would struggle.  Not quite so: the briefing was conducted at a public forum and a description of the modelling is posted on the LH Martin website.  The point that the authors of the modelling sought to make is that the götterdämmerung scenario of sky rocketing fees and crippling student debt doesn’t necessarily follow from the deregulation package (a point also made by soon to be Go8 director Vicki Thornton in an interesting exposition on the vomit theory of political communication).  Of course, the package creates that possibility and, over time, that may happen.  In this article Andrew Faulkner, Lea Patterson and Leo Goedegebuure, who did the LH Martin work, and offer concrete workable options to steep increases in student fees to offset budget cuts and financially sustain universities.

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We have recently critiqued the government’s higher education reform package and questioned the logic suggesting steep increases in student fees. While we stand by our view, we agree that we need to offer concrete workable options.

Our alternatives are based on the work we did for a recent workshop on fee deregulation. The objective was to help universities determine the impact of the proposed reforms and what strategies could be explored to not only survive the changes but thrive in a deregulated environment.

Building on our experience of modelling numerous Australian universities, we created three realistic models covering these distinct university types: Group of Eight, metropolitan and regional.

These models are quite detailed, containing a full curriculum and workload profiles at the unit and course level. As with any modelling, these are simplified institutions where changes are smoothly implemented and results are shown without the associated costs of transition. This is the whole purpose of modelling, highlighting the “what if” possibilities and taking them to their logical conclusions. It’s an approach we believe is helpful in today’s complex policy environment.

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Sometimes you need to shout to be heard

24 August 2014

 

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With the federal government reportedly prepared to consider slashing billions of dollars worth of research funding from universities if Parliament blocks its sweeping higher education changes, this article, first published in June 2011, remains relevant today. The point was similarly made by former Australian Governor-General the Honourable Quentin Bryce AD CVO (who thankfully seems to have eschewed the title of Dame) in her recent Richard Larkins Oration:

It is time for us to remind ourselves that the most important tool we have are our voices. We must lift them to support our brilliant researchers.

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research-rallyRepugnant threats of violence against academics’ research on climate change reminds us that much of what occurs in universities is of a political nature.

What is taught and how it is taught influences social thinking and attitudes; remember the culture war and the depiction of universities being inhabited by Marxist ideologues?

The outcomes of research in both the natural and social worlds profoundly shape the zeitgeist. Think Einstein’s general theory, Keynes’s general theory, Fleming and penicillin, medical research and pharmacology generally . . . and research on climate change.

All these things have political implications of one kind or another because they affect the way we see and inhabit the world.

Generally, you would think the activities of research and teaching makes the world an overall better place; kinder, safer, healthier, wealthier. And, of course they do, setting aside the objection that some of the scientific, social and industrial advances of the past beg the solutions we now seek to present problems.

Why then is the academy and its contributions to human welfare, actual and potential so seemingly undervalued in the polity?

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Getting higher ed reforms fit to fly

25 August 2014

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Linda K2 Professor Linda Kristjanson, vice-chancellor, Swinburne University of Technology proposes five key changes to the federal government’s higher education package – including a maximum cap on student fees and moderating proposed changes to student loans interest rates.

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One of Swinburne University’s subject strengths is aviation, and so when our researchers see an interesting new aircraft design one of the first things they ask is: will it fly?

That’s the question that confronts anyone considering the higher education reform package that formed part of the recent federal budget.

Will it give Australia a better educated and higher-skilled population? Will it give us higher quality research to prevent disease, create better products and solve pressing social problems? And will it do these things whilst encouraging innovation and providing better value for money? Will the deregulated system work? In other words: will it fly?

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Politics 101: why Pyne has failed to sell his education ‘reforms’…?

22 August 2014

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Jamie Miller writes in The Conversation that “the long sorry saga” of Christopher Pyne’s handling of the government’s proposed higher education reforms “serves as an ideal case study of how not to go about building support for a controversial reform program”. It also demonstrates a dispiriting tendency on the part of this government to resort, not so much to “spin“, but to out and out deception (that’s our takeout, not Miller’s).

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CHRISTOPHER PYNE PRESS CLUB

 

No.

And with that, Clive Palmer indicated that the populist Palmer United Party (PUP) would not support the federal government’s proposed deregulation of the tertiary education system. At least in its short life-span, the PUP has shown itself to be thoroughly consistent in its inconsistency. A backflip isn’t impossible.

Nevertheless, while I’ve written elsewhere about the merits of education minister Christopher Pyne’s changes to higher education, we need to talk about the politics too. For the long, sorry saga serves as an ideal case study of how not to go about building support for a controversial reform program.

The first problem was that of consultation. When the reforms were announced in the May budget, the government caught all of the key stakeholders off-guard. The lack of prior consultation meant the government struggled from the outset to avoid the perception that its new policy simply reflected a pre-ordained template to turn the sector into a market.

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Ridiculous research…?

20 August 2014

While some contentious budget savings measures that require separate legislation are still in play in the Senate, such as university fee deregulation, the passage of CSIRO2the appropriation bills in late June means that the great bulk of savings measures are already in place. This includes cuts of at least $420 million to science and research funding. These cuts are already seeing research being cutback or ceased altogether. According to the CSIRO Staff Association, the cuts to CSIRO’s budgets will mean the curtailment of research programs into virology and infectious diseases – including Ebola virus. Research into bowel or colorectal cancer – the second largest cause of cancer deaths in Australia – will cease completely. CSIRO work in the neurosciences – including critical research into Alzheimer’s, dementia and other diseases set to beset the growing numbers of Australia’s ageing population – will be shut down entirely.

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The science of science

14 August 2014

 

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Research2In delivering the Jack Beale Lecture on the Global Environment, Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb has lamented the lack of a national science strategy at a time when comparable nations are investing in a strategic science and technology pipeline that starts with education and ends with high end research. This is at a time when the Australian government is actually cutting back investment in key areas of research. Australia is now the only OECD country that does not have a contemporary national science and technology, or innovation strategy. For the first time since 1931, Australia does not have a science minister. He says that a complacent attitude of “presuming that she’ll be right because it most often has been is no longer an option – surely.” It’s not so much a case of Australia will be left behind: we are being left behind in the science that underpins the security of our national future. Science, Chubb points out, is a long haul: “it is not something that can be turned on or off when we feel like it”. Chubb released a position paper more than a year ago outlining the case for a national strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He’s now in the final stages of preparing a national strategy for government to consider.

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Sometimes you need to shout to be heard

24 August 2014

 

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With the federal government reportedly prepared to consider slashing billions of dollars worth of research funding from universities if Parliament blocks its sweeping higher education changes, this article, first published in June 2011, remains relevant today.

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research-rallyRepugnant threats of violence against academics’ research on climate change reminds us that much of what occurs in universities is of a political nature.

What is taught and how it is taught influences social thinking and attitudes; remember the culture war and the depiction of universities being inhabited by Marxist ideologues?

The outcomes of research in both the natural and social worlds profoundly shape the zeitgeist. Think Einstein’s general theory, Keynes’s general theory, Fleming and penicillin, medical research and pharmacology generally . . . and research on climate change.

All these things have political implications of one kind or another because they affect the way we see and inhabit the world.

Generally, you would think the activities of research and teaching makes the world an overall better place; kinder, safer, healthier, wealthier. And, of course they do, setting aside the objection that some of the scientific, social and industrial advances of the past beg the solutions we now seek to present problems.

Why then is the academy and its contributions to human welfare, actual and potential so seemingly undervalued in the polity?

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UA position on university reforms dumps students – Parker

6  August 2014

 

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University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker has has affirmed his complete opposition to the government’s proposed university reform package and “distanced” himself from “what appears to be the negotiating position of Universities Australia” (that is, some sort of acceptance around a deal on interest rates on student loans).  He says “we are about to inflict grievous damage on the prospects of a generation of young Australians by saddling them with enormous debt; and this is being shrugged off as a mildly distasteful consequence”.

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Stephen ParkerChristopher Pyne’s National Press Club speech on 6 August was an opportunity for the Minister for Education to show an open mind and recognise that there could be valid and genuinely held alternative views on a package of higher education changes which will transform the sector completely and irreversibly. Regrettably, this opportunity was not taken up. In fact, he has dug himself in further by claiming that the package is “essential for the future prosperity of the nation” which makes one wonder why it wasn’t mentioned in the federal election campaign last September.

I am a Vice-Chancellor who has progressively moved towards a position of outright opposition to the changes as my hopes of an acceptable compromise have diminished. These hopes are now at near vanishing point, so even if I am the only one in the sector, I think it right now to distance myself from what appears to be the negotiating stance of Universities Australia and condemn the measures as a complete package, even if there are individual details which could be acceptable.

Students seem almost incidental to the debate, but I think they should be at the centre of it. We are about to inflict grievous damage on the prospects of a generation of young Australians by saddling them with enormous debt; and this is being shrugged off as a mildly distasteful consequence. When Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winner for Economics and Professor at Columbia University, calls on Australia not to take this direction, as he did last month, citing his own country (the USA) as an example of what to avoid, we should listen. And if I have to choose between Stiglitz and Pyne, I go for Stiglitz.

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UA says changes needed

    6  August 2014

 

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ua logoUniversities Australia comment on Christopher Pyne’s Press Club speech signalling he is open to negotiation on his university reform package.

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While the Christopher Pyne has made clear that he intends to introduce the package to the Parliament in its current form,he has  indicated that the government would be Belinda Robinson2willing to consider Senate amendments.  Accordingly,  Universities Australia (UA) says it will be meeting with senators to encourage them to consider changes in key areas.

UA  chief executive Belinda Robinson says UA agrees with the Minister that changes are required to prevent Australia being left behind in the ever-intensifying competitive global higher education environment.

An innovative, high quality, accessible and affordable higher education system not only provides life-changing opportunities for individuals but is a critical driver of national productivity and prosperity.

UA says it will be calling on senators to consider improvements to the package including in three key areas:

      • The magnitude of the proposed 20% cut in the Government contribution to tuition fees;
      • Improving the fairness of the student loans scheme and ensuring that it is affordable for both students and the taxpayer; and
      • A package to address potential market failures particularly for institutions that serve disadvantaged and regional students.

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HELP needs help

 

8 August 2014

 

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An important issue for Australian university funding concerns the rate of interest applied to Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt. For the last 25 years the debts have been adjusted to inflation; this has ensured that the loan carries a zero real rate of interest for all debtors. Times have changed. The 2014/15 budget proposes that the debt be adjusted to the long-term government bond rate, which would lead to significant inequities in the system. Bruce Chapman and Timothy Higgins (ANU) recently conducted some research on this issue, and found there are alternative indexation arrangements worth considering.

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Fee increase2

The initial decision to charge at the rate of price inflation was to protect HELP debtors who experienced relatively low future incomes. Since relatively low-income borrowers will take longer to repay a given debt, members of this group are subsidised the most.

Our calculations found that under the proposed system of charging interest relative to the bond rate, a high-earning graduate with a debt of $60,000 would repay close to $75,000 in real terms (assuming a 5% bond rate). A low-earning graduate (but one who earns above the minimum repayment threshold) would repay as much as $30,000 more. If we consider a low earner who also takes 10 years off work to raise children, the repayments may rise by a further $10,000.

Why is this a problem? Consider a scenario where a teacher and finance student undertake different degrees but with the same fees charged. Is it fair that the teacher – whose salary prospects are lower than the finance graduate – will ultimately pay a higher real amount because of real indexation?

All income earners have the option to make greater repayments, and thereby reduce their interest charges. However, lower-income earners have lower capacities to repay than higher earners. In this sense bond indexation may be considered unfair.

But, if the student doesn’t repay the debt, the taxpayer does. Is it fair to ask taxpayers to pay the costs of interest rate subsidies made to low-earning graduates?

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Fee changes have the potential to “tear through the social fabric

29 July 2014

 

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The prospect of university fee deregulation, as proposed in the Budget, has divided the university sector.  The Group of Eight is strongly in favour, with ANU vice-chancellor and Go8 chair Ian Young saying that, in an environment of declining public funding, without fee deregulation, the university sector is unsustainable.  The Australian Technology Network universities “reluctantly”  agrees and the peak body, Universities Australia is not opposed. But number of individual vice -chancellors have been strongly critical of the proposal, most recently University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker, describing proposed reforms, with fee deregulation as the centrepiece, as ” a potentially calamitous package” .

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 Yet the university groups, individual universities and many commentators agree on one thing: never mind fee deregulation, in its current form, the package would be deleterious, if not actually calamitous,   for many graduates in later life, through the combination of higher fees and real interest rates.   Writing in the Business Spectator (Tinkering with education will tear through Australia’s social fabric), Callum Pickering reproduces modelling by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM).

Their modelling shows that the effect of deregulation is likely to be felt most strongly for those pursuing science degrees and those in lower-paying occupations such as teaching and nursing. Those pursuing business degrees take a hit but to a far lesser extent given their higher earning capacity.

The graph below shows the estimated increase in repayments based on a number of scenarios. The first is the base case, which assumes that the university is happy to simply recover the cost of the government’s planned funding reduction. The other three scenarios show how the repayments change as universities increase their fees by 10, 20 or 50 per cent above the level necessary to recover costs.

Graph for Tinkering with education will tear through Australia’s social fabric

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More students in higher ed, but it’s no more representative

 28 July 2014

 

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Tim Pitman of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education analyses the latest data on equity participation in higher education.  While participation by students in all equity groups has certainly improved in raw numbers, all groups remain heavily under-represented. For example, participation by Indigenous people is about half their proportion in the population and  for low SES people about two-thirds.

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Go8 Equity scalesThe 2013 student data has been released, which includes information on access for groups of students under-represented in higher education. Lately, most of the attention has been on students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and whether or not the implementation of the demand driven system – or uncapping the number of domestic undergraduate places – has improved access for them by increasing supply and reducing competition.

It has. This is vindication of the demand driven system – and the efforts within the sector – to improve accessibility for this group in both actual and proportional terms.

However, there are five more groups of students officially classified as disadvantaged, for the purposes of “equity”. Not all of these groups have found the demand driven system has been as positive for them. In fact, some have found their slice of the pie getting smaller.

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A milestone

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exclamation224 July 2014     |     This is The Scan’s 2000th post since we went to this particular format in February 2012 (although The Scan itself dates from June 2010 – check out the first Scan).  These are the top ten posts and they’re actually quite representative of what The Scan “does”. Obviously, we’re a news aggregator: we take news from other outlets and try to put it into digestible form for busy people (which was the original purpose of The Scan). But we also provide independently sourced news and commentary. And we cover the whole of the tertiary sector: higher education and VET, public and private. We don’t cover everything – and never could – but we try to cover what matters. This selection is split evenly between higher education and VET, between “news” and “views” and split more or less evenly over three years.

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Regional educators fear TAFE changes

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17 July 2014   |   Educators are concerned that regional students will be affected by NSW government changes that will see the vocational education and training sector opened up to the private sector report ABC Radio’s Bush Telegraph.

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TAFE NSW3Critics believe the changes under the Smart and Skilled policy will see course fees increase and will preclude many regional students from pursuing further education.

Kathy Nicholson, an organiser with the NSW Teachers Federation and former head teacher at Inverell TAFE in northern NSW, says TAFE has been a much valued pathway for vocational training for regional students. For some who left school early, it has also offered a second chance to gain higher education. Ms Nicholson believes this pathway is being eroded in NSW as well as other states around the country as governments open up the sector to competition.

Brendan Sheehan, a senior fellow at the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne, says there have been radical changes to TAFE in Victoria since successive state governments opened up the sector between 2008 and 2011. He says other states should learn the lessons from Victoria, where the TAFE sector has suffered job losses and campus closures.

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

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Senate faces choice between good policy or cheap politics

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Vicki-Thomson-photoWith the new look Senate now in place there are scary times ahead for the higher education sector, writes Vicki Thomson of the Australian Technology Network. The Senate has already knocked off higher education savings of $435m initiated by the former Labor government – drawing accusations of hypocrisy from education minister Christopher Pyne. This may put at risk other reforms, on cost grounds, such as the extension of Commonwealth Supported Places to students at non-university providers, or the perceived unpopularity of measures such as fee deregulation. Thomson says that the ATN is a reluctant supporter of fee deregulation but sees it as the only practical means of sustaining the quality of the university sector. She suggests that to reject fee deregulation out of hand — “the easy path of populism and publicity” — would be to sign the ultimate “death warrant on a globally respected higher education system”.

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It is, of course, far too early to know how the new band of independents will perform. But with the future of the higher education sector — from fee deregulation to equity — in their hands, I openly can admit I harbour concerns. The subject matter ahead for the new senators is highly complex and it would be far easier for them to reject the government’s legislative changes outright.

There is also the risk the new independent senators may seek populism and publicity over policy. I can well imagine that in the hothouse of attention that will follow their every move, it may well prove hard to manage the avalanche of dense legislation and lobbying.

In the full glare of the media, there might be short-term kudos from taking the path of least resistance: after all, there’s not much negative publicity from falling into line with the government. The media attention comes from making a government’s life difficult.

Universities and future, current and past students are facing the most significant and far-reaching reforms in decades. Much is at stake.

Agreeing with fee deregulation, as we do at the Australian Technology Network, has not been an easy decision. But you don’t need university-level maths to recognise that having embraced it, the demand-driven system was a recipe for financial disaster.

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Higher education outside universities: a better option?

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3 July 2014 | The likely extension of commonwealth student subsidies to non-university providers portends big changes for the higher education sector.

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Higher education provision outside universities is likely to increase significantly in the future, as a result of the government accepting a recommendation of the review of the demand driven funding system to expand eligibility for government-supported tuition subsidies, should the measure pass the Senate.

In this panel discussion chaired by the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton, a member of the review panel, the nature of the non-university higher education sector, the implications for it and its students of receiving Commonwealth tuition subsidies, and the consequences for the broader higher education system are explored. Other panel members are Mary Faraone (Holmesglen Institute), Jeannie Rea (National Tertiary Education Union) and George Brown (Study Group Australasia).

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Civilisation as we don’t know it: teaching-only universities

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Gavin Moodie3 July 2014 | The Scan has long been a proponent of “teaching only universities” (see One size does not fit all unis). In this piece in The Conversation, Gavin Moodie observes that there is no reason in principle, practice nor historical precedent to champion or oppose teaching only universities. But were the research requirement of universities removed from the higher education threshold standards he doesn’t expect any current Australian university to relinquish its research role. Rightly or wrongly, he writes, research has become so embedded in universities’ ethos and activities since the 1960s that it is central to all universities and to most academics’ conception of themselves as universities and as university academics. Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University, argues that teaching only institutions would not be universities as we know them (no, they would not be, which is the point) and would impoverish students’ educational experience (why would being exposed to good or excellent teaching and scholarship impoverish a student??).

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Teaching

With higher education changes meaning universities will soon be looking for ways to cut costs, many have been wondering if universities will give up on research to focus on where the money is – teaching students.

Teaching-only universities have long been contentious in Australia. Various people, interests and arguments promote teaching only universities, while other bodies and arguments support the Australian status quo.

Do universities have to do research?

In Australia, the higher education threshold standards restrict the title of university to institutions which conduct research and offer research masters and doctorates in at least three broad fields of study. The threshold standards are a regulation that may be changed by the government, if it is allowed by both houses of federal parliament.

Australia is unusual in making research a condition of designation as a university. Most institutions accepted as universities worldwide conduct no research, such as many universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Requirements differ across the OECD.

Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Massachusetts in the US make research a condition of designation as a university, but England and California do not. All universities in Ontario in Canada conduct research, but British Columbia has a category of teaching-only universities which were formerly community colleges before upgrading as university colleges and then as universities.

Research was established as an institutional role of universities relatively recently. Research has long been a personal activity of scholars, some of whom were located in universities, but it did not emerge as an institutional role until the 19th century.

Even so, a research role for universities was rejected by Cardinal Newman in his famous lectures on The Idea of a University as late as 1853. Research has been an institutional role of universities for only about one-fifth of their history since the establishment of the first European universities in the 11th and 12th centuries.

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24 June 2013

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IRU calculates a lesser doom

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Conor King of the Innovative Research Universities group says that suggested massive fee increases to make up for a 20% cut in overall Commonwealth funding are not necessary. Calculations of such increases are based on “clinging” to the existing “imperfect” clusters and would produce 16 different student charges, compared with just the three different charges student currently face.

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Cha chingKing has produced a table (you really need to see Fees Table 2 to follow this) which shows how universities could offset the lost Government revenue, with options for:

  • a single common charge;
  • increases to the current three bands; and
  • a four band system to match the proposed five clusters, with the same charge for clusters 1 and 5 similar to the current arrangements.

King calculates that, for universities to recover the reduction through increases to student charges requires, an overall increase of 25% to 30% across all students at an average fee per student of around $10,500.

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Arts degrees should be funded

24 June 2014

 

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In this op-ed piece originally published in The Australian, Ben Etherington (Univeristy of Western Sydney) takes issue with John Roskam’s proposition that “taxpayer-subsidised higher education is one of the more pernicious forms of welfare“. Among other things, Roskam queried the relevance of studying the “emergence of poetry in various Caribbean Creoles”, Etherington’s current project.

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Budget 2

“In an era of busy government and constant change, it’s insufficiently recognised how often masterly inactivity can be the best contribution that government can make to a particular sector. A period of relative policy stability in which changes already made can be digested and adjusted to … is probably what our universities most need now.” That sounds reasonable.

As does this: “If we have to change it, we will consult beforehand rather than impose it unilaterally and argue about it afterwards. We understand the value of stability and certainty, even to universities.”

Here’s another great line: “Reasonable public investment in higher education is not dudding poorer people to help richer people: it’s strengthening our human capital in ways that ultimately benefit everyone.”

Like the reassurances given to Ford factory workers about car manufacturing and a “sophisticated economy”, Tony Abbott’s speech to Universities Australia now looks like pure expediency.

There is an unfortunate symmetry here. Like car manufacturing, public universities were a great success of Menzies-era nation-building.

Public universities flourished at that time because liberals, socialists and conservatives all agreed on their value, albeit in line with different world views. Debates between these outlooks did not concern the right of public universities to exist; they were internal to universities, taking the form of intellectual struggles over the value of different modes of inquiry and relative importance of different disciplines.

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The calculator of doom

The Greens say there have been more than a million hits on an online calculator it has launched to show how much a degree now under the fee regime announced in the recent budget. Government sources have questioned the accuracy of the calculations on the What Will My Degree Cost website, but there can’t be any doubts about the interest in the outcomes. Meanwhile, the proponents of “Americanisation” of Australian higher education might take note of recent actions by the US government to stem ballooning student debt, which now stands at more than $1 trillion and, according to economists, is acting as a drag on the economy.

 

The cost of an Arts degree, according to the Greens calculator of Doom.

The cost of an Arts degree, according to the Greens calculator of Doom.

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There’s a few things wrong with Americanised universities

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The high level of student debt, to begin with.

 

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President Barak Obama has taken executive actions to ease the burden of college loan debt for potentially millions of Americans, in a White House event coinciding with Senate Democrats’ plans for legislation to address a concern of many voters in this midterm election year. On 8 June, Obama announced “new steps to further lift the burden of crushing student loan debt”. Despite past actions by the administration, borrowers’ debt load is growing and retarding their ability to buy homes, start businesses or otherwise spend to spur the economy, economists say.

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The School of Life is looking for a Program Producer. The successful candidate for this role School of Lifewill be responsible for assisting the development, delivery and evaluation of the program of events as part of TSOL Program Team in Australia.

 

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Arts degrees shouldn’t be funded

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11 June 2014 | In this recent article in the Australian Financial Review, the IPA’s John Roskam decries the sense of entiltement of young people, particularly those who would undertake an Arts degree (“It’s not obvious why Australia needs more arts graduates anyway”). He seems to be missing something generally – the transformative nature of education – and something specifically, in that even arts graduates do go on to make vital contributions to society and the economy in a variety of ways, just as do graduates in other fields of education. If you’re not an Arts graduate maybe you agree – like what’s the contribution to the wellbeing of contemporary Australian society of learned articles on the “emergence of poetry in various Caribbean Creoles”. But he seems to us as obviously a chap who gives meaning to the adage about a person who knows the cost of everything and the value of very little.

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Given the sense of entitlement young people have these days, it’s no surprise they’re outraged by the Abbott government’s higher education reforms. One of the things the Coalition wants to do is to increase the interest rate on the loans the government provides to students to pay for their tuition. Instead of the interest rate being based on inflation as now, it would be set according to the how much it costs the government to lend the students the money. This change would cost a typical university graduate paying off their loan over eight years an extra $3 a week. It’s no wonder so many university graduates have trouble adjusting to the real world. Rather than being grateful that half of their tuition is being paid for by taxpayers, students complain they’re being asked to pay $3 a week more for their degree.

Australian university students don’t realise just how fortunate they are. Arts students are especially fortunate. No one has yet asked why taxpayers should pay for even half of someone’s arts degree. If an individual wants to go to university to watch French cinema classics of the 1950s and write essays about it, they should be free to do so. That doesn’t mean taxpayers should pay for it. It’s not obvious why Australia needs more arts graduates anyway. Nearly a quarter of all students in higher education are enrolled in degrees in the field of “Society and Culture”.

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6 June 2013

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The higher education reforms announced in last month’s budget have sparked a fierce debate within the sector about fees, student debt and the so-called “Americanisation” of Australian higher education. Here are two views – pro and con.

 

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Nothing wrong with Americanised universities

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In the pitched battle over Christopher Pyne’s proposed reforms to higher education, the term “Americanisation” is freely bandied about – and the connotations are invariably negative. But the facts about American higher education belie common Australian worries about affordability and quality, according to Geoffrey Garrett.

 

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In the pitched battle over Christopher Pyne’s proposed reforms to higher education, the term “Americanisation” is freely bandied about – and the connotations are invariably negative. But the facts about American higher education belie common Australian worries about affordability and quality, according to Geoffrey Garrett.

Headline tuition rates at the top American universities are much higher than is conceivable in Australia.

But US universities give big scholarships to lots of students, significantly reducing the effective cost of degrees. And these scholarships are targeted on disadvantaged students. America’s leading universities practise “need-blind” admission. Get in on merit and the university will make sure you can afford it.

This is what Australia’s best should strive for if the government’s reforms make it through the Senate.

At the same time research intensive does not equal quality in the US. Elite “liberal arts colleges” specialise in undergraduate teaching. They attract many of the very best students, students who could go to the Ivy League but actually prefer teaching-focused institutions. Under Pyne’s reforms, some Australian universities could and should try to emulate this approach.

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Prestige costs rather than pays in higher education

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The belief of Australia’s Group of Eight elite universities that fee deregulation will allow them to fund their chase for global prestige is based on a fundamental misreading of the economics of elite US universities, writes Raymond Da Silva Rosa.students.

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The belief of Australia’s Group of Eight elite universities that fee deregulation will allow them to fund their chase for global prestige is based on a fundamental misreading of the economics of elite US universities, writes Raymond Da Silva Rosa.

As is well documented, the elite US universities heavily subsidise their students to attract the “highest quality”. This concern for “quality” doesn’t mean everyone has an equal shot. At the more selective US private universities, The New York Times reports that:
More fathers of freshmen are doctors than are hourly workers, teachers, clergy members, farmers or members of the military – combined.
There’s no vast conspiracy behind the intensely skewed socioeconomic distribution in elite US universities. The system is meritocratic. The problem, pinpointed by sociologist Mitchell L. Stevens, is that:

Only the relatively wealthy are able to afford the infrastructure to produce that accomplishment in their children. Upper-middle-class Americans have responded to the triumph of educational meritocracy by creating a whole new way of life organised around the production of measurably talented children and the delivery of news about kids to the right places at the right time.

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27 May 2013

How much will student debt rise?

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Geoff Sharrock looks at possible impacts on student debt of fee deregulation. He concludes that in at least some universities, it is fair to assume that deregulated fees may double or even triple in some fields, not suddenly but over time, with a significant impact on HELP debts. In others, fee rises and the higher HELP debts they create may well be quite modest after all. In an expanded analysis on the LH Martin website, Sharrock advises that universities and students should continue to oppose the severity of the subsidy cuts and the other risks the reforms pose for students.

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Pay hereEducation minister Christopher Pyne has released new public subsidy rates for domestic students in degrees offered by universities, to take effect from 2016. As a budget saving the government aims to lower the rate of public subsidy by 20% overall.

Most universities will raise fees to at least offset their loss of income from government subsidies. Many will go further to boost the total level of income they’d receive, above 2014 levels. Either way, Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debts will balloon.

Fee deregulation offers the flexibility sought by Group of Eight (Go8) vice-chancellors such as ANU’s Ian Young and UNSW’s Fred Hilmer, but opposed by others, such as the University of Canberra’s Stephen Parker and UTS’ Ross Milbourne.

For Go8s especially, fee deregulation is almost a licence to print HELP debt.

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27 May 2013

Careful what you wish for….2?

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V-C SwinnieSwinburne vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson has expressed concern about five aspects of the recent Budget. In particular, she has joined a number of other vice-chancellors in voicing her opposition to fee deregulation and higher interest charges on HECS loans, which she says will lead to a “higher education system characterised by the haves and the have nots.”

 

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Many staff attended briefings on the Federal Budget and there is a high level of interest in what the changes might mean for Swinburne. Although the package is complex and has many elements, these are the five key issues of concern.

We do not support full fee deregulation for Australian undergraduate degrees. Full fee deregulation will inevitably lead to much higher fees for our students. It benefits Group of Eight universities whose ‘brand position’ will allow them to charge much higher fees, irrespective of the quality of teaching students receive. Over time, full fee deregulation will lead to a higher education system characterised by the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Our system of higher education should continue to encourage fees which are not out of reach for those capable Australians who aspire to university study.

Two years ago, I wrote about the risks associated with full fee deregulation in an article for The Australian – those interested can read it here.

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Commission of Audit a missed opportunity on VET

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Peter NoonanThe National Commission of Audit’s recommendations for vocational education and training – proposing that responsibility for VET revert to the states – represent a missed opportunity for overdue reform says Peter Noonan, professor of tertiary education policy at Victoria University. He says the commonwealth’s interests in VET are stronger than ever before, not weaker, and the commission’s recommendations for VET should be set aside .

 

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For all it has achieved, the VET system now needs genuine ¬renewal. The current federal-state shared funding model has run its course.

Governance arrangements are complex and opaque. There is duplication in programs and ¬administration. Longstanding debates about quality remain unresolved. VET qualification completion rates are too low.

The commission identifies some of these weaknesses but misses the opportunity to propose sensible reform options to VET reformaddress them. Instead, in poorly evidenced logic, it recommends that the commonwealth wind back its -involvement in the sector by transferring VET policy and funding responsibility to the states, and abolishing all commonwealth VET programs.

And, strangely enough, despite the recommendation for the commonwealth to vacate the field, the commission also reckons the states should still be required to continue specific reforms set by the commonwealth.

It all points to a limited and partial analysis and understanding of VET and the commonwealth’s role in it. Its assertion that under the Constitution the commonwealth has no responsibility for VET is inaccurate, and taken to its logical conclusion would require that higher education also be handed back to the states.

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14 May 2013

Funding: it’s not rocket science

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Ahead of the Budget, Suzanne Cory, president of the Suzanne CoryAcademy of Science, challenged Tony Abbott to be visionary, in the manner of Robert Menzies, and to build his own science legacy for our future, and recognise that an investment in science and research is an investment in the future of Australia. Abbott failed the challenge, at least in this year’s budget. As reported elsewhere, science and research was a net loser, notwithstanding the announcement of the Medical Research Future Fund.

 

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If I had to name one of the big political heroes of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the first to come to mind would be Sir Robert Menzies.

It’s hard to think of any one politician who had more of an impact on the Liberal Party tradition. But just as influential was Menzies’ impact on science and research in Australia.

Under his leadership, war and depression gave way to a new kind of scientific optimism. He led a massive expansion of Australia’s scientific research capacity, was involved in the creation of the Australian Academy of Science, and funded the building of important infrastructure such as the giant radio telescope at Parkes and the phytotron in Canberra. He also oversaw a tenfold increase in the budget of the newly formed CSIRO in just 15 years.

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The higher education revolution – redux

CHRIS PYNE PRESS CONFERENCE9 May 2014 | In a speech to open Monash University’s Diamond Deposition Suite, education minister Christopher Pyne has set the scene for extensive changes, to be announced “in-principle” in the forthcoming Federal Budget (13 May), to higher education funding arrangements, as proposed by the Kemp- Norton Review and the Commission of Audit. In particular, he has come out strongly in support of allowing universities to compete on price by deregulating what fees they can charge students and extending the publicly subsidised demand-driven system to non-university higher education providers (NUHEPs). Students at NUHEPs would receive a lesser subsidy than students at universities because they do not need to fund research activities. He also strongly backs another Kemp-Norton recommendation for the federal government to subsidise pathway programs into universities. He indicated that the burden of the cost of tuition also might be shifted, from the government currently providing on average 60% of the costs to something less, with the student contribution rising….[ MORE ]….

Joe says: keep calm and carry on

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12 May 2014 | On the eve of his reputed götterdämmerung budget, treasurer Joe Hockey reassures us that all will be good – eventually. Check out the derivation of “stay calm“.

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3 May 2014

Keep it clever

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Universities Australia is running its Keep It Clever Australia campaign to stress the value of public funding for university education and research.

 

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1 May 2014

The thing about fees

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This item from The Scan archive, published in February 2013, has a certain timelessness.

 

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quote marksUniversity chiefs pretty well agree that universities are underfunded for the tasks expected of them but there’s been no agreement on the role of increased fees in making up the perceived shortfall. All through [2012], debate about fees rumbled along in the sector, after Universities Australia (UA) chair Glyn Davis put the issue on the agenda at the UA Conference, when he suggested that new demand-driven system had created a “half” market where universities could compete for domestic students on quality, but not on price. The university sector seems sort of split along three lines.

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Commission of Audit: an alternative view

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The report of the National Commission of Audit has been released and proposes radical cuts Commonwealth programs to end, in Treasurer Joe Hockey’s words, the “age of entitlement” and prevent budget spending climbing to $690 billion within a decade. It’s not as if Australians are, by the standards of the developed world, particularly over entitled. As Glenn Murray points out in this timely reality check, we actually spend less on welfare than all but four countries.

 

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Australia’s university groupings

Useful background on Australia’s various university groups by RMIT adjunct professor Gavin Moodie.

 

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Universities Australia originated as the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee in Sydney in May 1920.

UAThe AVCC was reasonably cohesive until 1988. There were clear differences between universities and the universities established in the 1960s and 70s (Flinders, Griffith, La Trobe, Macquarie and Murdoch) marked themselves as distinctive and different from their older siblings, deriving their interdisciplinarity and open academic structures from Essex and the better known Sussex universities. Nonetheless, the older universities maintained academic norms which were largely followed by all other universities.

This commonality of interests and norms fragmented after the former colleges of advanced education amalgamated with established universities or became universities in their own right from 1988. While they were all accepted into the AVCC, that was controversial and many still insist that the post-1988 universities should never have been admitted into the club. Conversely, the post 1988s declined to accept all the norms of the pre-1988 universities.

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Debate over funding and fees

23 April 2014 | The Kemp-Norton review’s recommended extension of Commonwealth subsidies to students dollar keyattending private for-profit higher education providers has split the public university sector and opened the debate on student fee increases. Universities Australia (UA) says such an extension is a policy high wire act which, if not properly controlled, could endanger the hard won reputation of the Australian higher education sector and called for a cautious. But the Group of Eight welcomes the “diversity” it would bring and argues for fee deregulation.

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Davis bullish on fees

Glyn Davis22 April 2014 | Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, has backed a review of student fees if tertiary funding is cut in next month’s federal budget. He says it is a”reality” that students may have to contribute a greater share of the cost of their education or quality would be sacrificed. He encouraged a national debate on lifting student fees, saying the current funding system is ”incoherent” and ”arbitrary”……[ MORE ]….

Workforce advisory agency abolishedAWPA

22 April 2014 | The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) will be terminated and its functions transferred to the Department of Industry from 1 July 2014. Confirming the agency’s disbandment to staff, AWPA chairman Philip Bullock said that the move is in line with the government’s plan to “streamline its advisory processes” and that the board wants to ensure a “smooth transition”. He said AWPA’s strategies, reports, modelling and research documents had been used by industry and governments at all levels. The move has been described as “shortsighted” by some commentators….[ MORE ]….

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Engaging University Studentsstudent engagement

A new book by Hamish Coates and Alexander McCormick provides university teachers, leaders and policymakers with evidence on how experts in several countries are monitoring and improving student engagement.

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TAFE essential to a diverse and polychromatic VET system

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On Tuesday 15 April 2014 LH Martin Institute Senior Fellows John Maddock and Brendan Sheehan appeared before the current House of Representatives Committee on TAFE to discuss the role of TAFE. Their opening statement below triggered an extensive and intense discussion with the Committee.

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FEDERAL BUDGET 2013 PACKAGE

The Institute is agnostic as to the efficacy of a market orientation in VET provision: it doesn’t matter what institution is delivering a qualification – public or private, TAFE or university – so long as it represents value in terms of both cost and quality.

It follows that governments should be equally agnostic.

We acknowledge that private registered training organisations (RTOs) can add useful diversity, innovation and choice to the overall system.

But the thread running through our submission is that TAFE, as the public provider network, underpins the whole VET system and contributes to the public good in numerous tangible and intangible ways that private RTOs do not.

 

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17 April 2014

 

Re-imagining the campus in the VET sector

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A change to the treatment of publicly owned Technical and Further Education (TAFE) facilities has the potential to exacerbate existing problems in the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector, writes Mary Leahy.

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FEDERAL BUDGET 2013 PACKAGE

The federal minister for industry, Ian Macfarlane, expressed concern that TAFE assets are underused. He signalled interest in following the Queensland government approach, which allows non-TAFE registered training organisations (RTOs) access to TAFE facilities for the delivery of training.

To assess the implications, this idea needs to be seen in the context of the Australian VET sector. Major government reforms are reshaping the VET landscape. These include the allocation of government funding for non-TAFE training organisations and the more recent introduction of demand-driven funding models.

Underpinning these reforms are some important assumptions. The main one is the view that a training market is the most efficient way of allocating scarce public resources. We do not have an unregulated market. Even the most laissez faire of Australian governments recognises the risk of market failure.

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17 April 2014

 

Is “market failure” emerging?

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All the signs point to evidence that neglect and a rush towards privatisation are dragging the vocational sector into crisis.

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For sale3After four years of marketisation in Victoria, there are certainly signs of, at least, incipient market failure in that jurisdiction. There have been numerous TAFE campus closures, particularly in the peri-urban fringe and throughout regional Victoria. Even larger, well established and strong TAFE metropolitan institutes, such as NMIT, have been severely affected, with consequent scaling down of activity in some areas.

The most publicised closure has been the former Lilydale campus of Swinburne University, announced in (DATE), which provided both VET and higher education in purpose built facilities to several thousand students. The former campus site sits at the gateway to the Yarra Valley and the Gippsland region, which has generally poor levels of education attainments. The region contains low socio economic pockets, significant population of young Indigenous people, high levels of student disengagement and low levels of tertiary and vocational education. The availability of tertiary and vocational education at Lilydale has acted as a positive incentive for many disadvantaged people to continue their education.

Intensive efforts to attract other education providers to the site have failed and the site is now on the general market and may well be lost to training and education altogether. The Lilydale campus had a relatively comprehensive range of training and education offerings and there is no sign at all that the hole created by its closure is being filled or, indeed, that it can be filled.

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The campus is dead: long live the campus?

Virtual communities can provide an alternative to the on-campus experience but, as yet, there is little evidence to suggest that virtual engagement with peers and with content matter experts can provide the same benefits as being immersed in the intellectual culture on campus, writes Jason Lodge of Griffith University.

And do read this related essay by Kate Bowles on the creation of the space – or part of it, anyway – that the University of Wollongong occupies – For Leon Fuller.

 

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UoW

Much hype and discussion has surrounded the evolution of online higher education over the last few years. Technology has now reached a point where it is conceivable that an education experience on the internet can be comparable to one on a university campus. However, just because it is conceivable does not necessarily make it so.

The learning that occurs differs markedly across disciplines and domains of knowledge. For example, it is relatively easy to comprehend how basic level accounting could be effectively learnt in a virtual environment.

It is not so simple when considering advanced surgical techniques. It would be a brave soul who would trust a surgeon trained using wikis, instructional videos and virtual classrooms.

While these might be extreme examples, there is undoubtedly a large market for flexible delivery of university education, and many universities now offer online degree programs. This is true even for the many institutions not traditionally associated with “distance learning”.

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HECS sell off must be invested wisely

Vicki-Thomson-photo6 March 2014     |    Securitisation is likely to become Australia’s education-financial buzz word of 2014 – namely the debt securitisation of the student loan portfolio (HECS), writes Vicki Thomson of the Australian Technology Network. If that’s a direction the government takes, the proceeds – nominally $26 billion but in reality significantly lessnothing could be worse than to see it squandered.

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quote marksWhile realistically the sector can’t expect the benefit of the entire proceeds of any such sell off, it should demand that a fair percentage be used to support the world-class education and research identified by the Coalition as an economic pillar in the lead-up to last year’s federal election.

 

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Peter’s parrot?

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Having announced he will be retiring from politics at year’s end, Victorian skills and higher education minister Peter Hall remains upbeat about the legacy he will leave.

 

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Peter-Hall-62884976 March 2014     |    People have asked me this week, since I announced I won’t be standing at the next election, how I feel about walking away from Victoria’s training system.

My answer is that I am confident the reforms we have made have set a strong foundation for sustainable delivery of quality training for Victorians now and into the future. We inherited a system that was under-funded, mismanaged and in dire need of reform. We are fixing the system, not by cutting funding to the sector, as some claim, but by boosting funding to record levels and changing the way it’s allocated.

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28 February 2014

Sandra HardingStirring and shaking Australia’s tertiary sector

In her address to the National Press Club, one of the set pieces of the annual Universities Australia (UA) Conference, UA chair Sandra Harding noted what a bizarre year 2013 was with five ministers and multiple policy gyrations. She emphasised, as chairs of UA tend to, that putting public money into higher education is more investment than expenditure, and she ran out the numbers to prove it. But she posed an interesting question: Are we trapped by the very language we use – and the behaviour that language invites?

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quote marksI wonder if here lies part of the explanation of the trauma and denial and the reluctance in some quarters in Australia to really attend to the fact that the future really will be different than today and requires different national, business and industry investments to platform that different economy.

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TAFE in the era of skills reform

Leesa Wheelahan, formerly of the L H Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management at the University of tafe-imageMelbourne, recently moved to Canada to take up the William G Davis Chair of Community College Leadership at the Ontario Institute for Studies for Education at the University of Toronto. Leesa has been a champion of the public TAFE system and a strong critic of successive governments’ reforms of the TAFE and VET system in Australia, which has left the TAFE system in an emaciated state. In this “exit” interview. Leesa ponders the future of TAFE in the era of “skills reform.”

quote marksIn Victoria TAFE market share has dropped to 40% and while that’s not the only measure of institutional viability or health, clearly when you have had a massive loss of market share the implications of that for the sector are dire because you lose institutional capacity, resources, funding. The capacity of TAFE institutions has been undermined and attacked. In a couple of the other states the drift is just the same. Poised as you are to leave, looking back, what advice would you give governments? What will happen if TAFE falls over? Is there any way back from where we are at the moment?

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Review of demand driven system

ua logoSubmissions to the review of the demand driven system initiated by education minister Christopher Pyne closed on 16 December 2013. University sector submissions support its retention and an extension to sub-bachelor places to create pathways for less academically prepared students. Submissions also propose readjusting fees, including a mechanism to allow full fees (IRU).

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TDA argues for TAFE CSPs

tda_logo- largeTAFE Directors Australia submission to the review of the demand driven system has a number of propositions in support of extending the Commonwealth fee subsidy (Commonwealth supported places) enjoyed by university undergraduate students to higher education students at non-university HE providers such as TAFEs. It also argues for creation of a special provider category of ‘Polytechnic university’ or ‘University college’ , as teaching only institutions, that recognises the increasingly important role of the non-university provider and upholds the status of their qualifications offerings as an alternative equivalent to a traditional university qualification.

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Menzies

“It is not yet adequately understood that a university education is not, and certainly should not be, the perquisite of a privileged few. We must become a more and more educated democracy if we are to raise our spiritual, intellectual, and material living standards… The new charter for the universities, as I believe it to be, should serve to open many doors and to give opportunity and advantage to many students.”

-Sir Robert Menzies, 28 November 1957, quoted in the Swinburne University submission

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The Scan in 2013

Most viewed items for the year

 

The%20hiatus%20pic%20cloudIn 2013, 816 items, featuring 936 pictures, were posted on The Scan (vs. 852 in 2012). We’re obviously an international publishing phenomenon, with visitors from 153 countries. The continuing ructions in the VET sector featured heavily in 2013 (Once was TAFE , a leading post in 2012, wasn’t too far off the pace in 2013, either), as did regulatory issues in both the VET and higher education sectors. You would have expected in an election year that politics and policy would rate highly: but it was the paucity of new policy, for either VET or higher education, that was notable BEFORE the election, although Christopher Pyne has had a bit to say since. With both a national commission of audit and a formal review of the higher education demand driven system to report in early 2014, next year’s budget (probably delivered on Tuesday 13 May 2014) should be full of interest.

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The Scan December 2013

The 10 most viewed items on The Scan in December 2013, in order.

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On the unbearable lightness of being Kevin

There’s a view abroad in some quarters  – you can guess  which –  that improving the performance of our schools, seemingly falling against international benchmarks, is not about injecting more money but about something called “values”.   Kevin Donnelly, an expert apparently,  is one of the proponents of the values theme.   If you follow Donnelly’s reasoning, it follows that teachers at “high performing schools” in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs, for example, are superior to their counterparts in schools in, say, Melbourne’s western suburbs.  And that the students of such schools are almost universally innately intelligent, while their western suburbs counterparts (one could hardly use the term “peers”) must be obviously almost universally inferior in the cognitive department.

We don’t think either the “values” argument or Kevin Donnelly stack up.

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Go8 Equity scalesMost people have an opinion on the quality of education provided to the children of Australia.

After all, just about everyone has been to school themselves and the majority of older people have had children or grandchildren at school.

Kevin Donnelly is no exception, except he’s an “expert”. He’s certainly a prodigious commentator: he’s written a couple of books on the subject and he’s the education commentator of choice in The Australian. You can go here for a fairly comprehensive selection of his commentary.

My problem with Donnelly is that, no matter how much he writes, he’s really only got one story. Australia’s education systems are failing and the remedy is “back to basics” – phonics, rote learning, highly structured and prescriptive teaching and learning.

Now, there are undoubtedly elements of the story which ring true. Nothing is perfect – continuous efforts at improvement are to be applauded, as we learned in Blog # 2 – and from time-to-time, as in all areas of human endeavour, teachers and education policymakers stuff up.

BUT: by and large, Australian schools do pretty well by most Australian kids.

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Policy directions in higher education

In this commentary for the ACPET Journal for Private Education, Brendan Sheehan looks to the higher education policy horizon under the newly elected Coalition government.

signposts2It has been clear for some time that general budget pressures, and the ballooning cost of higher education, would bring the gaze of policymakers, post-election, to the efficacy of a demand-driven system — whatever the hue of the government.

The post-election gaze is unlikely to stop at the demand-driven system, and will certainly take in the architecture of the entire system, including the place of non-university higher education provision, which has a small but growing role in provision.

 Over the six years of the Labor Rudd/Gillard government, there was explosive growth in higher education participation, and funding, fuelled by the phase out of enrolment caps during the period 2010–2012. In announcing its last set of funding cuts in April 2013, the Gillard government claimed that student numbers had increased by 34% or an extra 146,000 students (more recently, it has been reported as 190,000 extra students) and funding had increased by 50% since 2007.  That was on an upward trajectory, with enrolments projected to increase by another 100,000 students, and expenditure by another couple of billion dollars, by 2016.

 In order to meet the target of 40% of 25-34 year olds having a bachelor degree by 2025, it is estimated that there will need to be at least about another 300,000 students in higher education by 2025 (with some estimates suggesting up to 500,000 additional students).

 The requirements of meeting that projected growth is enough to cause any minister to contemplate the need for change.

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The first 100 days 

An off centre perspective on the state of the polity

This commentary is by someone we haven’t actually noticed before – Andrew P Street of The Vine, which is a lifestyle blog targetting young people (18 to 35 years old).  Street’s forthright lack of “even handedness” is disarmingly fresh – you can have no doubts where he stands on the issues of the day.   Sort of like the Murdoch press.

Tony AbbottBack before the election I wrote a piece explaining the looming Abbott victory was possibly the best thing for the Left in Australia.

Part of my argument was that if Labor had pulled off a skin-of-the-teeth victory they’d have been forced further to the Right, there’d have been even more desperate finagling of independent support and virulent in-fighting as the party imploded, and the only thing that could possibly give the party a short, sharp reminder of its origins as the party of the people would be a kick back to opposition.

Since then, things have been, let’s be honest, ghastly.

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Pay up or your data dies

A new virus has arrived that will take your data hostage and promise to give it back if you pay a ransom

Crypto locker5 December 2013    |     Devastating malware that makes users’ computer files unreadable until they pay a hefty ransom has begun infiltrating Australian computers after wreaking havoc in Britain and the US. The so-called “ransomware”, known as CryptoLocker, silently encrypts files on Windows computers, along with files on any connected network storage or USB devices, rendering them unreadable. Once the encryption process finishes, it tells users to pay a ransom, equivalent to between$300-600. Although CryptoLocker itself is readily removed, files remain encrypted in a way which researchers have considered infeasible to break. Many experts say that the ransom should not be paid, but do not offer any way to recover files; others say that paying the ransom is the only way to recover files that have not been backed up. So always backup – offsite. read-more-button2     _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Louise WatsonFor many in the education community, saying goodbye to the Gonski school funding reforms is disappointing, to say the least. After years of effort, the model looks set to be ditched as the new government sets its sights on developing a new policy. In this piece from The Conversation, the University of Canberra’s Louise Watson looks at what might be salvaged as the government moves on.

Gonski is gone but can anything be salvaged?

SCHOOL EDUCATION STOCKFederal education minister Christopher Pyne has managed to upset the states and the education community with his declaration to “go back to the drawing board” on the Gonski funding scheme. Although Pyne’s announcement will feel like a bombshell to many, some in the education community saw it coming. During the election, Pyne switched from saying not very much on school funding, to only committing a Coalition government to four years of funding under a “unity ticket” on education. But the previous government’s agreements with the states were for six years, with the bulk of the money going out to schools in the last two years, beyond the forward estimates. In his statements, Pyne has said the new funding scheme is unimplementable and will need to be changed to a “flatter” and “simpler” system after 2014. While Pyne has emphasised that the funding envelope will remain the same, the Coalition’s election commitment that no school will be worse off under the new arrangements is in doubt. So if the Coalition government is going to start anew, what should happen next? read-more-button2 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ditching Gonski: what’s so unfair about funding based on need? David Zyngier

It should come as no surprise. that the Abbott government will now undo the vital Gonski school funding reforms of the previous Labor government, writes David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash University and a former school principal and state school teacher. read-more-button2 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wrong time to break a promise

Not even Andrew Bolt will sign up to Christopher Pyne’s casuistry over walking away from the “unity ticket” on schools funding.

Andrew BoltI believe Christopher Pyne when he says Labor left its education reforms in an “incomprehensible mess”. Trouble is, I also believed the Education Minister before the election. I believed Pyne when he said: ”You can vote Liberal or Labor and you’ll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.” Now, after several days of Pyne spin, I don’t know if the Government will break its first reckless promise or not. But it had better not. read-more-button2 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“There’s no doubt that what seems to be happening is that states that signed up (to the Gonski model) are being punished and the states that didn’t sign up are being rewarded,” Mr Piccoli told The Australian yesterday. “They can punish me personally as much as they like but I’m not the one being punished. It’s the million students in NSW, and I find that difficult as a human being. It’s immoral.” – See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/christopher-pynes-demolition-of-gonski-immoral-says-coalition-minister-adrian-piccoli/story-fn59nlz9-1226770891903#sthash.0Wkn9f6Z.dpuf

quote marksThere’s no doubt that what seems to be happening is that states that signed up (to the Gonski model) are being punished and the states that didn’t sign up are being rewarded. They can punish me personally as much as they like but I’m not the one being punished. It’s the million students in NSW, and I find that difficult as a human being. It’s immoral.

Adrian Piccoli, NSW education minister

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A quiet revolution

At a time of some debate about the quality of university education, RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner says there has been a ‘quiet revolution’ in university teaching which has seen a steady but significant improvement since the mid-1990s.

Professor Margaret GardnerEach year’s increase in graduates’ satisfaction with their teaching has been modest but over two decades the improvement has been big enough to indicate a transformation in university teaching. This improvement has occurred even though there has not been substantial performance funding to boost teaching, nor does teaching earn the reputational rewards that university rankings give to research The steady improvement in university teaching in Australia is due to a mutually reinforcing combination of several factors.

The first, and most important, is academics’ commitment to their discipline and their students.

A second important factor has been robust measures of the quality of courses and teaching, and their deployment throughout universities in a way that supports teaching improvement. read-more-button2 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capping funding would lack coherence

Capping university funding, as proposed by Melbourne University vice-chancellor, Glyn Davis, would create a system Conor King2that would be opaque, have no coherence across institutions and invite extensive micro managing of university expenditure, writes Conor King of the Innovative Research Universities group.

14 November 2013 | What does it mean to change university funding to a capped funding amount which universities can use as they will? Can it both give Government certainty of expenditure and protect universities from micro managing of their operations? Under current arrangements universities receive base funding based on the load of enrolled students in particular discipline areas. There are also various additional amounts, some such as regional loading added through the main Commonwealth Grant Scheme, others controlled as Other Grants which includes the university research block grants. In most cases the requirements on universities about use of those funds is light. The CGS is to be spent on university activities; research funds on research like activity. Some of the Other Grants, like the low-SES participation payment are caught in foolishly precise requirements about expenditure and acquittal which should be removed (see Why acquitting the low SES loading is a waste ). Reporting is extensive, control of expenditure light…...[ READ MORE]…… ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capping uni funding would be a lose-lose

quote marks“Decide student profiles” sounds better than “restricting access” and “within the funding envelope” certainly sounds more agreeable than “cutting higher education funding” but they amount to the same thing. read-more-button2

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Is securitisation an ugly word?

Securitisation

With the 25th anniversary of the Dawkins higher education reforms being commemorated, maybe the funding structure – notably the HECS scheme – introduced by those reforms is about to undergo fundamental change. Education minister Christopher Pyne has put “securitisation” of HECS firmly on the agenda of the government’s commission of audit. Some commentators think the idea of securitisation is “bananas“. Others are somewhat more sanguine: Bruce Chapman – the architect of HECS – says it doesn’t really matter who owns the debt, so long as the essential characteristics are maintained (particularly recovery through the tax system). In these two articles, usefully published in tandem on The Conversation, we get alternative (though not diametrically opposed) views. Andrew Norton (Grattan Institute) argues that the current HECS system should be retained but with significant reforms to make the scheme more economical – such as a real interest rate. Rodney Maddock (Monash University) is of the “it doesn’t matter who owns the debt” school but enthuses that securitisation would be a great new investment vehicle for the super industry. The word “student” doesn’t make an appearance. Securitisation is just one of the issues before the commission of audit: headed as it is is by the current chair of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), with the commission’s secretariat headed by the BCA’s chief policy wallah, it’s worth looking at the BCA’s own agenda to divine the possible future. Who knows where this might all end up?

Reforming student loans could bring in real savings

andrew_nortonThere are also many potential changes other than securitisation that are worth considering. These include lowering the threshold at which HELP repayment starts, collecting from HELP debtors working overseas, charging real interest, and removing the death write-off of remaining HELP debt. Other countries with similar loan schemes already do the first three things on this list, and we could too if the public believed the savings would be well spent. A Grattan Institute project is looking into these options in more detail. Selling HELP debt to private investors could give the government billions of dollars in the short term, but reforming HELP could lead to billions more in repayments over the long run. read-more-button2

Selling off the HECS debt could be a super solutionRodney Maddock

The key attraction for the government is it could convert a stream of payments in the future into cash today. This may or may not be a good idea, it simply depends on whether the government can make better use of the money today rather than by waiting. The new government clearly feels constrained from making investments today (for example in infrastructure) by the amount of debt it currently has. Selling off some assets to reduce those constraints may let it invest more in other areas…It would be unfortunate if the debate about the extent of subsidisation of students was conflated with the issue of privatising the repayment flows…The HECS repayment flows could be a valuable new asset for Australian superannuation fund, adding to the suite of alternative assets they have available for investment. read-more-button2

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Bastard Dawkins and his revolution

The recollections of a petty official

The Dawkins reforms of higher education in the late 1980s thoroughly transformed higher education, turning “colleges into Trevor Cookuniversities, free education into HECS, elite education into mass education, local focuses into international outlooks, vice-chancellors into corporate leaders, teachers into teachers and researchers”. A lot of people hated it and damned the reforms as “instrumentalism” (something nasty, one assumes). Trevor Cook worked for John Dawkins in his personal office from October 1987 for about 3 years as variously a political adviser, an adviser on training policy, media relations and finally as chief of staff . In this article recalling the “Dawkins revolution”, Cook observes that working for Dawkins was a tough gig: he could be a complete and utter bastard , and was sometimes referred to as “dirty Syd”. But equally he could be charming and considerate. He also had a most lateral way of thinking and could visualise paths to a goal not apparent to “ordinary” folk. And he was a fighter. Cook was at the recent launch of a book on the reforms – The Dawkins revolution: 25 years on. This recollection is from Cook’s blog which is well worth visiting – full of interesting stuff.

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Dawkins

John Dawkins, c.1988

The Dawkins revolution was not reform by consensus, it was not watered down to an extent that made it essentially meaningless, but broadly acceptable to all stakeholders. Dawkins was in a fight that he could have easily lost but he took on his critics and sought to overwhelm them and out-manoeuvre them. The demands of that fight put a lot of pressure on his staff and his departmental officers, as well as himself.

quote marksPolitical reform is not for the faint hearted. It is not a parlour game.

Dawkins chose to play the game hard. He was determined to win the argument and get the biggest changes he could. He would never have been content with ‘canniness’. Dawkins always knew, perhaps intuited, that big changes have the best chance of lasting the distance. Too often reforms like these get captured by the internal stakeholders, those with most at stake in an immediate sense. The Dawkins revolution was not about universities: it was about delivering economic and social benefits from a bigger higher education sector to the Australian community. This approach helped Dawkins win the political argument, but it did not endear him to many people in the higher education sector. But now it is 25 years later, and about 8 ministers from both sides of politics have succeeded Dawkins as higher education minister. Despite some tinkering, the essential architecture of the Dawkins reforms are intact. read-more-button2

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Why TAFEs matter

Leesa25 October 2013    |   The insightful Leesa Wheelahan will soon be decamping the LH Martin Institute to take up the William G Davis Chair of Community College Leadership at the University of Toronto. Here she reflects on the challenges facing the TAFE sector as a result of “VET reform”, which she suggests can only result in a greatly diminished role for TAFE, at great community and social cost. It’s not an uncommon view: recently retired Holmesglen Institute director Bruce Mackenzie says TAFEs might disappear entirely from some states in less than a decade due to “state government meddling and federal government indifference “. He does suggest that “re-invention” involving TAFEs in effective collaborations and partnerships will be the key to survival.

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Government ‘reforms’ to TAFE are destroying a key institution that contributes to Australia’s well-being, social cohesion and economic prosperity. The purpose of the changes is to create markets in vocational education and training and to transform TAFE into a commercial provider of services that competes on the same basis as private-for-profit providers. I have no doubt that TAFE will survive, but it will be a different kind of institution that serves a different purpose. We will all be poorer as a result. read-more-button2

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Why a minimum ATAR would improve efficiency & equity

Go8 Equity scales18 October 2013 | In this excerpt from a presentation just before the election, Mike Gallagher (executive director , Group of Eight universities), makes the case for a “re-calibration” of the demand driven system, by the imposition of a minimum ATAR for university entry. He argues that the G08’s proposal for a minimum ATAR of 60 (now apparently in public abeyance) was never an argument for reintroducing caps but would actually improve both equity and efficiency in the higher education system by directing academically underprepared students into pathways programs which would ultimately increase the chances of such students successfully completing bachelor degree programs. Such students admitted directly into degree programs are in many cases being set up for failure. He also notes that ATAR is of decreasing relevance anyway, applying only to applicants within 2 years of completing Year 12 (in 2012, only 34% of university places were offered solely on the basis of ATAR). The full presentation is wide ranging, going as it does to the whole structure of higher education in Australia, which Gallagher describes as “unbalanced”. He argues, for example, that the dynamic of changes in higher education, such as the impact of technologies, international competition and the emergence of multiple forms of higher education, involving non-university and non-public providers, renders many of the underpinning assumptions of higher education obsolete. Policy needs to adapt to provide greater real choice and diversity in higher education offerings and facilitate the emergence of new institutional types and modes of delivery.

quote marksAdmitting under-prepared students with low ATARs not only increases their risk of non-completion, it restricts their choices. Lower ATAR students admitted directly to bachelor degrees are being selected on the basis of their current preparation, rather than their potential for university study, while graduates of pathway programs have a chance to prepare for a wider range of disciplines, and demonstrate their aptitude for tertiary study. Catherine Burnheim & Sue Wills

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The importance of ideas

30 September 2013     |     In this email to University of Melbourne staff, vice-chancellor Glyn Davis reflects on the implications of the Glyn Davischange of government. As Paul Keating observed, when you change the government you change the nation. This includes spelling conventions: the Administrative Arrangement Order indicates that the spelling “programme”, the convention of the Howard era, is preferred over “program”, the convention of preceding and succeeding governments (and the spelling advised in the Australian Style Guide). This is not addressed by Davis. On the positive side, Davis mentions initiatives in the international sector (the “New Colombo Plan”), languages education and teacher training. He notes the apparent abandonment of the previous government’s participation and attainment targets (which, as a Go8 institution, Melbourne may not be totally adverse to – although we are expecting to be corrected on this supposition). But as The Australian’s High Wired blog notes, the message was around research, which it described as “a veiled warning to Minister Pyne”, about the Coalition’s proposal to redirect public funding from “ridiculous research” in the humanities and social sciences to medical research (which is, almost by definition, “worthy research” in public perception, in a way that research in humanities and social sciences can never quite be). He also mentions the university’s Festival of Ideas, which we have shamefully failed to mention until now. It’s a nuanced message: ideas are important, too. read-more-button2 ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The cone of silence descends

The incomparable David Rowe makes a point in the Australian Financial Review

The incomparable David Rowe makes a point in the Australian Financial Review

27 September 2013    |    The difference between being in government and opposition, Tony Blair once famously said, is that in government a minister wakes up and thinks, “what will I do today”. In opposition, the spokesperson wakes up and thinks, “what will I say today?” New education minister Christopher Pyne possibly began to appreciate this difference when his public musings about “quantity” versus “quality” (i.e. the pros and cons of the demand driven system), which sparked the most public attention of the nascent government’s term (except for deciding not automatically announcing new boat arrivals). It certainly inspired the likes of cartoonist David Rowe (above) and an enormous amount of media commentary and analysis. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has cracked down and directed that ministerial media commentary needs to be “co-ordinated” through his office – and nothing wrong with that either: government policy does need to be subject to an approval process. At the moment, government policy is that the demand driven system will be retained and that fees will not be increased.

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Tick a box on climate science

Tick327 September 2013    |    As Ross Gittins observed in Fairfax Media (including Pravda on the Yarra, which proved its independence by being one of only two newspapers in the known universe to endorse the return of the Labor government – the other, strangely enough was the Economist), the Abbott government has had a disconcerting starting “to do list”:

…..sack econocrats guilty of having worked with the enemy, pass an edict against climate change and discourage all discussion of it, stop publicising boat arrivals, build more motorways, move to a cut-price national broadband network and take science for granted.

The disbanding of the Climate Commission has excited lots of comment but its sacked members have reconstituted as the Australian Climate Council, and with the support of community funding, and will volunteer their time to interpret climate science from around the globe. There are other strong, independent and credible sources of advice and information about climate change issues, such as the Centre of ClimateExcellence for Climate System Science, which was established in 2011 with extensive investment from the Australian Research Council and comprises the University of New South Wales, Monash University, the Australian National University, The University of Melbourne, and the University of Tasmania. It seeks to build on and improve existing understanding of the modeling of regional climates to enable enhanced adaptation to and management of climate change, particularly in the Australian region. We can’t be absolutely sure but we don’t think even Jamie Briggs would label this “ridiculous research”. On 27 September 2013 the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be released. Here, the Centre’s director, Professor Andy Pitman, previews the report, one part of which will address the so-called “warming hiatus”:

This is the argument that warming has stopped, with the further assertion in some quarters that we therefore have nothing to worry about in the future. It is a fact, based on observations of air temperature, that the rate of global warming measured as surface air temperature has slowed over the past 15 years. The last decade is still the warmest in the past 150 years. If you measure global heat content then global warming has not slowed. If you measure other indices including sea level rise or ocean temperatures or sea ice cover global warming has not slowed. However, the warming trend in air temperatures has slowed over the last 15 years. There is a great deal of interest in this “hiatus” in the sense of whether it points to some fundamental error in climate science.

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The practical value of impractical research

Today’s eccentric can become tomorrow’s Nobel Prize winner

research infrastructure - ABC 20 September 2013 | With the Coalition government intending to redirect funding from so-called “ridiculous research“, it’s worth re-visiting this item from 30 April 2013 on the practical value of impractical research – and the contribution to the wellbeing of communities of research in the humanities and social sciences.

In one of its regular policy notes, the Group of Eight acknowledges the value of applied research, “the more tactical, short term research intended to realise already identified market and other opportunities”. It’s sometimes argued that, with pressures on public budgets, if governments invest specifically in research designed to produce immediately useful outcomes, it would ensure a higher return on government investment. We witness the life enhancing outcomes of practically oriented research all the time (see Life changing research (1): Epilepsy and (2): Alzheimer’s). But such research often has its origins in “curiosity – led research”, extending over many years and which began with no specific outcome in view. Moreover, the prospectivity of a research project to produce relatively short term applications can actually serve as an argument against substantial public funding for such a project.

… by definition, research is the process of discovering something we do not already know. The more definite we can be about the research outcome when we start the research, the more trivial the research and the weaker the arguments for government support. …it is not the role of government to fund or perform research that business needs for itself and which does not involve a significant risk.

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50_solutions_web72dpi_rgbResearch is taking place in all Australian universities that has the power to save lives, boost economic development, create wealth, re-invent manufacturing and much, much more. Presented here are fifty examples of research outcomes generated by Australian Technology Network (ATN) member universities. They demonstrate the diversity of enquiry and the potential impact this work can have on both Australian society and indeed the world.

Visit

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Tony AbbottA collage of Coalition policies

8 September 2013 | This wasn’t an election in which education was a key issue and tertiary education hardly figured at all. Here’s a collage of Scan articles over the past year or so touching on the Coalition’s approach to tertiary education, which provide assort of compass to the horizon….[ READ MORE ]….

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2013_election_logo (2)The aftermath

Sector responses to new government

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Abbott urged to put learning first

NCVER HandsAustralian university vice-chancellors, as well as lobby groups for the schools and TAFE sectors, have called on newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott to focus strongly on education. Among the policies announced during the election campaign were a New Colombo Plan to boost foreign study in Asia, a review of the national schools curriculum, a greater emphasis on science and languages in teaching and research, and maintaining the increased funding promised by the previous government under the Better Schools scheme. The latter however will apply only for four years rather than six….[ READ MORE ]…..

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New Colombo Plan could be a game changer for universities

6 September 2013     |     Barring an act of God, sometime after 7pm on Saturday (although Antony Green will probably call it at 6.30) 7 September Tony Abbott will be the Prime Minister-elect and next week a Coalition government will be in place. Apart from targeting “ridiculous” research, a signature policy of a Coalition government will be its New Colombo Plan. Here, Vicki Thomson examines why the Plan New Colombo Plan has the potential to be a game-changer for universities and our nation.

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Colombo PlanAustralia’s university sector finds itself in the glare of an unexpected spotlight which offers both challenge and opportunity following the Coalition announcement of the New Colombo Plan. At its core, the plan is a foreign policy initiative – not an education policy. It is a soft-diplomacy initiative designed to ensure many thousands of Australian university students, over coming decades, have the opportunity to study in Asia and to be interns in an Asian-located company as part of their undergraduate degree. The plan represents a sophisticated vision for Australia’s integration into 21st century Asia with the university sector front and centre. What better way to educate our nation’s future leaders (our current students) about Asia and its people? What better way to ensure our graduates understand the imperatives of industry and business and become far more “work-ready”? read-more-button2 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This was originally published in the first edition of The Scan this year, but retains, we think, contemporary relevance.

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The thing about fees….

blue-bookThe Review of Base Funding was charged with, among other things, determining an appropriate “balance of resources” to be contributed by Government, students and others, in a way that would to ensure that fees do not constitute a barrier to participation. While the review found that the “average level of base funding per place should be increased”, a hard pressed Commonwealth government rejected this – and ruled out any increase in fees. The government has also ruled out fiddling with reintroducing enrolment caps, although from time to time former minister Chris Evans seemed to be mulling it over. Ditto the opposition, which ruled out fiddling with both fees and caps. We expect that this position on fees and caps will persist until some time in the afternoon of Sunday 15 September, when the Treasury briefs the incoming Prime Minister, particularly if the briefing is coming from the Blue Book (David Cameron made soothing noises about fees, too- and promptly trebled them). read-more-button2 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

30 August 2013

The idea of fees and the Australian university

Glyn DavisThis is a transcript of the 2013 Newman Lecture delivered on Wednesday 21 August 2013 at Monash University’s Mannix College. It’s an interesting account of the development of the Australian university system, drawing from mainly English traditions but also Scottish, European and American. But this is not just an historical survey. In the week in which UNSW v-c Fred Hilmer stepped back a little from his strident calls for caps on enrolments, Davis makes the case that “markets ” lead to innovation and diversity. It’s a relatively long and interesting piece in itself but scroll to the end for the point. With the election of an Abbott government almost certain, the argument within the university sector moves on from the merits or otherwise of the demand driven system to the merits or otherwise of fee deregulation.

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For 20 years, Australian universities have worked simultaneously in two worlds – one public, highly regulated, and deeply Uni cloisterconstrained, the other international and more like a private market. The first is the world of domestic undergraduates, where Canberra sets strict rules about price and entry. The second is the market for international students, where universities can make choices about where to recruit, what to charge, whether to operate within Australia or set up offshore. Not surprisingly, the world of domestic students remains largely undifferentiated. Australian universities offer a very similar array of programs to domestic students, with no price competition allowed. Only in the global market has real and important difference emerged. Required to make independent strategic choices, universities differ greatly in their approach. A number prefer large offshore operations, as teaching programs or with an overseas campus that reproduces the ambiance and values of the home institution. Others run an on-shore strategy, working with feeder schools, international agencies, foundation colleges and other players to build significant international revenue. A few universities have changed their entire curriculum in an effort to orientate themselves toward graduate education for Australian and global students. Pressures for change necessitate urgent reflection on the role and purpose of a university. Professor Gaita has expressed eloquently his concerns about the trajectory of Australian institutions. His call to 10 argument is timely. For though the Australian tradition has endured with little change to date, stately progression along a deep path may halt abruptly under commercial pressures. Markets end the incentives to uniformity. They require diversity, since not every institution can occupy the same niche. Markets reward innovation and punish the slow-moving. They destroy and build simultaneously. On current Commonwealth funding rates no Australian public university can survive without a strong international cohort. As a result, innovation is transforming the singular Australia idea of a university. As the market approaches, the familiar road comes to an end.

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Uncapped funding “fair and efficient”

22 August 2013    |     In an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review, Swinburne University’s head of Corporate and Government Affairs, Andrew Dempster, says that uncapped funding for higher education is fairer and more efficient. He also says it’s consistent with Coalition policy – and Labor , of course, introduced it.

UNIVERSITY STOCKThere is a degree of resignation in higher education circles that the system of funding undergraduate university places according to student demand may be on its last legs.

This is not new. Hand-wringing about the sustainability of the so-called demand-driven system has been fashionable for some time. There is heightened scepticism of the demand-driven system among Australia’s sandstone universities, which have an unfortunate tendency to look down their nose at those institutions that take students with ATAR [Australian Tertiary Admission Rank] scores of 70 and below, as if those that do are “lowering the standards” for everyone else. This is despite the fact that many establishment universities would not know what a student with an ATAR of 70 looks like, let alone how university teaching might be configured to assist these students to succeed. It is also conventional wisdom that, because the demand-driven system is a Labor creation, it will inevitably be for the chop under any Coalition government that follows. While budget pressures are real, it does the Coalition no credit to assume the demand-driven system will be dispatched to history if it forms government this year. Indeed, there are many reasons why it may survive and even prosper. read-more-button2 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two views on capping

15 August 2013    |    The introduction of the demand-driven, uncapped student enrolment system was perhaps the apogee of the” higher education revolution” of the Rudd/Gillard governments. But with costs spiralling and the sector subject to direct funding cuts of $4 billion over the next 4 years, the system is under challenge, with some arguing that it ought to be dumped and the proceeds of any savings be used to offset other cuts. Others in the sector strongly support retention of the demand driven system, on equity and other grounds.

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Equity can be better served

group-of-8-logo2Some have suggested that anything less than a blank cheque for further unconstrained growth would scotch the equity agenda that the Government and the sector adopted in response to the Bradley Review of higher education. This is nonsense. While demand-driven funding has contributed to improved equity and access, it is not primarily an equity policy. If demand-driven funding is the main policy lever for increasing low SES participation, it is an expensive and inefficient way of doing it. A more sustainable – and more effective – solution would be to recognise that demand-driven funding has achieved its initial goal, namely to meet unmet demand for university places, and to make provision for more targeted growth in identified areas of need.

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The caps should remain off

grattan_logothe new system is achieving its goals. It is lifting the supply of graduates to Australia’s economy, increasing student choice, and improving access to higher education for disadvantaged groups. The old system of government allocating student places to universities was unresponsive to student demand. With uncapping, universities are responding to demand trends in science, health and engineering by providing new student places. The last two fields are also areas of labour market shortage. Across most other disciplines, university applicants’ chances of admission to their first-preference field of study have increased. Recapping now, would make Australia’s higher education system less fair, less efficient, and less productive.

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Time to burst the uni-centric bubble

Claire Field6 August 2013    |    Claire Field, CEO of the private provider peak organisation, and Martin Riordan, CEO of the public Martin RiordanTAFE peak organisation, form a unity ticket to argue the case for less “uni-centric” higher education policies and regulatory practices. They might not have been too thrilled with the recommendations of the review of red tape, which imply that higher education providers with well established records of quality provision might have a lighter touch regulatory regime than other providers. You would read this as meaning “universities” – and not all universities at that. This article was first published in The Australian on 3 August 2013.

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There are 130 non-university higher education providers in Australia, including private colleges and 23 TAFE institutes. Recent research by the Grattan Institute found non-university providers deliver qualifications to 59,000 students a year. Trends for non-university providers delivering specialised degrees have been keenly watched by industry and have been particularly welcomed by the business sector here and in the many Asia Pacific countries involved in international education. Yet articles such as the one penned by Greg Craven and Glyn Davis (HES, July 3) have made less than complimentary statements about non-university higher education providers, such as: “In more than 160 years no public university has ever failed, but a series of smaller private higher education providers has gone belly-up, damaging the national brand. If there is risk it is found in the competitive private market”. There are a number of factual errors in this claim that deserve clarification. While it is true that a number of small private providers have ceased to trade over the past few years – all but one voluntarily – the impact on students has been minimal and there has been no reported damage to the national brand. This is because the majority of private providers subscribe to one of two tuition assurance schemes offered by the major peak bodies read-more-button2

quote marks….rather than focus on a university-centric approach that seeks to further embed the unique heritage of protection of universities….it would be more productive to see alternative ways that a future government might unwind current restrictive trade practices, and align higher education with the Bradley review’s market-driven approach.

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Comment & analysis

Two views on Victorian TAFE reform

Victorian skills minister Peter Hall takes issue with a report by the self-described progressive think tank Per Capita, commissioned by the Victorian TAFE Association, that while contestability is OK, the way successive Victorian governments went about implementing has been somewhat less than OK. Per Capita suggests the need for stronger government direction, including caps. Hall responds that instead of wasting money on reports harking back to “good old days” of no competition and little accountability, the VTA should be supporting its members to capitalise on the opportunities the state’s system provides.

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TAFEs delivering on quality and price

peter-hall-6288497 I would be the first to agree that much of what occurs in TAFE is special and continues to serve Victorians well. But does that mean it cannot stand on its own feet and prosper in an open market, as the [Per Capita] report argues? TAFEs are businesses with a worldwide presence and turnovers of up to $200m annually. More training dollars are on the table than before and they are placed to win greater market share. The world has moved on and TAFEs need to move with it. Instead of wasting money on reports harking back to “good old days” of no competition and little accountability, the Victorian TAFE Association should be supporting its members to capitalise on the opportunities the state’s system provides. Every one of our 14 stand-alone TAFEs is receiving more money from government-subsidised training than it was under the previous government, while fee-for-service revenues are growing. Do we really think TAFEs should be paid more than the other community-owned providers for delivering the same certificate II in aged care or disability services?

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Lessons from the Victorian Experience

per capitaFew areas of Australian public policy have undergone such rapid change as vocational education and training (VET) in recent years.The introduction of private provision, known as ‘contestability’, has radically reshaped the VET sector. Contestability was first embraced in Victoria in 2009 in response to a widespread skills shortage, with other states since following suit. The objectives of contestability were to increase the supply of qualified trainees, while attracting greater private investment and improving quality through competition. In a 2008 paper, Per Capita called for a new market design in vocational training based on contestability (Cooney, 2008). Now, five years on, we evaluate the experience of contestability in Victoria against its original objectives. We find that it has succeeded in one of its primary goals: dramatically lifting the supply of new trainees. However, there have been unexpected and damaging consequences elsewhere. The ‘uncapping’ of the market has led to a bubble which has resulted in a $300m p.a. blow-out in public spending on VET

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Collaborate to Compete – the TAFE SA Solution

26 July 2013    |    As the “student entitlement model” as a means of increasing competition in the VET sector is rolled out across the nation, 8 different models of reform have emerged. Victoria’s model , with its seeming focus on untrammelled competition, seems the radical outlier. Despite significant differences in approach, policymakers in other jurisdictions have been careful to avoid the “turbulence” that has accompanied introduction of the Victorian model. In this article first published in Campus Review, Dr Ruth Schubert, director of business transformation at TAFE SA, sets out the South Australian approach.

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TAFE SA 2TAFE as a system and public provider is under review and scrutiny in a way not seen for a generation. The national agenda is seeking to maximise the skills and qualifications of the National Workforce, at the same time as achieving efficiencies in the costs associated with the delivery. The national imperative is for higher skills as a means of driving innovation in smart and globally competitive industries and enterprises. However while the end result has bipartisan political support, the means to the end does not. The policy drivers to achieve the changes are many and varied across the State jurisdictions; one key mechanism is the student entitlement model as a means of increasing competition in the sector. The implementation and management of the student entitlement for Victorian TAFEs has been at best turbulent, and indeed the full impact on the Victorian TAFE system is yet to be seen. The recent injection of adjustment funds now has amalgamations and mergers being seriously considered. In South Australia, the decision to implement Skills for All, which is the student entitlement demand driven model, also required that the TAFE system was at arm’s length from the funder and government agency. The move to establish a Statutory Corporation as a government business has enabled the Chair of the Board to report directly to the Minister of the day. The appointment of a highly qualified and well-connected board has enabled a degree of independence not previously possible.

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quote marksThe fundamental principle in the way TAFE SA is being positioned and transformed is that as one system, one RTO, and one structure, the organisation is best positioned to capitalise on the expertise and innovation within all areas of the business to ensure effective and efficient service across the State in an open market.

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The marketisation of TAFE

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan on why learning is about more than mere supply and demand.

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Markets4TAFE is not a ‘provider’ of vocational education and training; it is an educational institution which, like schools and universities, is essential to Australia’s social cohesion, productivity and international economic competitiveness. But TAFE is being wrecked. Victoria is leading the charge. TAFE’s share of publicly funded students in Victoria declined from 67% in 2008 to 42% in 2012, while private providers’ share increased from 16% to 46% over that time. Private providers are now the majority providers in 11 of 19 industries in Victoria, and they dominate in industries where programs can be run cheaply and in high volume. For example, they now have 92% of publicly funded enrolments in financial and insurance services, 74% in administration and support services, 78% in public administration and safety, 75% in retail trade, 72% in transport, postal and warehousing, and 83%t in wholesale trade. In contrast, private providers have only 4% of enrolments in mining, 6% in professional, scientific and technical services (which includes a lot of engineering) and 11% in information media and telecommunication. Why? Because it costs a lot of money to run programs in these areas and monstrous profits can’t be made. TAFE’s share of publicly funded students is declining nationally, and this will accelerate as the other states catch up to Victoria and implement similar policies. For example, in 2008, TAFE taught 74% of all publicly funded students nationally; this declined to 60% in 2011.

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quote marksGovernments should think very carefully before they wreck an institution, because once it’s gone, it is very hard to put it back together again.

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HilmerBowing to the high demand for university places threatens our high education standards, writes Fred Hilmer, UNSW vice-chancellor and chair of the Group of Eight. But he’s not actually arguing the door of opportunity be slammed shut for aspiring university graduates with lower ATARs. Instead, he proposes that students, especially from high school, with inadequate academic preparation, TAFE courses and bridging courses could offer pathways that provide an improved chance of success.

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Higher uni participation shouldn’t mean lesser quality

Setting up for success rather than failure

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The new Higher Education Minister Kim Carr has flagged a review of the so-called “demand driven” system that has seen such a rapid expansion in the number of students entering Australia’s universities. Predictably his comments have caused a furore. Increasing the participation rate in higher education was a core element of the Gillard Government’s education revolution. Those vociferous in their defence of the current approach point to the fact that it is opening up university education to young Australians previously denied the opportunity. No-one questions that this is a laudable aim, particularly if it increases access to tertiary education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. But I am among a number of vice-chancellors, and others involved in the sector, who have been calling for just such a review as a matter of priority. We are concerned about a potential decline in standards as well as escalating costs. We believe it is time to at least pause and take a hard look at what is being achieved and the best use of scarce resources, particularly in the context of the recent massive cuts to university funding.

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quote marksParticipation and quality can, and in a sound system must, co-exist. Participation without quality serves neither the needs of students or employers. And quality without widespread participation deprives the nation of talent and skills that underpin prosperity and civility.

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Like an unlatched dunny door on a windy night, Greg Craven (vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University) can bang on with his metaphors and similes, but he’s always lively and has a point. In this opinion piece published in The Australian, Craven’s point is that the uncapped demand driven funding system has opened up a new world of life opportunity for whole groups of people who previously haven’t had previously had easy access to higher education. Does “easy access” debase “quality”? Doesn’t have to at all, argues Craven. Two points. One ACU has been a major beneficiary of the uncapped system, more or less doubling in size since 2009. Second, if you read the comments attributed to Kim Carr, he said exactly that quality is an issue in the uncapped system.

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Slamming the door shut again?

Recapping is an argument about money, not quality

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competitionSympathy is not an emotion often extended to scorpions, stonefish and politicians. But you had to sympathise with Higher Education Minister Kim Carr last week. Taking up his portfolio, he made the mild observation that you had to watch both participation and quality in universities and ensure public money was well-spent. Suddenly, it was as if he’d entered a lion pit wearing Lady Gaga’s sirloin sari. Gleeful academic lobbyists announced the end of Labor’s demand-driven student system. This was the biggest policy reversal since God fell out with Gomorrah. Carr’s problem was that he had come within spitting distance of the “university quality” debate. There are pointless debates, bankrupt debates and poisonous debates. Then there is this brouhaha. Like all good stoushes, this one is self-interest dressed up in the fine feathers of principle. Basically, fan clubs of old, rich universities conduct weep-fests to bemoan the falling quality of university students. Not theirs, you understand: those going to other universities under the bipartisan 40% participation targets. It is an endearing eccentricity of the “university quality” debate that it is about the quality of the students, not the universities. In fact, it’s about money.

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[Is there] something about Australians that means our youth are dumber than in other nations aiming for [a similar] target ? In which case we may as well huddle in the quadrangle of the University of Sydney and wait for the end.

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The political tragedy of Julia Gillard

julia1In the middle of the 2012 winter, an influential supporter of Julia Gillard laid out for me the intricacies of the Labor caucus’ power structures, the labour movement’s web of personal antagonisms and the federal government’s dire predicament. At the end of his treatise, with a wide-eyed look of resignation and a despairing tone, he summed up:

The whole show is f—-ed and no-one can work out how to unf—– it.

A few weeks later, a highly experienced Labor figure with deep knowledge of public attitudes to the Gillard government and how to harness voter support shared his assessment. He’d concluded that Labor was headed for defeat and had lost the capacity to independently influence the 2013 election outcome because the bulk of voters had lost any desire to listen to the government. An avowed agnostic on the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard question, he averred that the only way Labor could re-enter serious consideration would be if the Liberal-National Coalition made a series of major public blunders. read-more-button2

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quote marks ….the reaction to bring the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership. – Julia Gillard ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 21 June 2013 Growing Australian Higher Education:

Achieving Targets and Rethinking Provision

ACPET_Journal_JUNE13_WEB-Cover-imageHigher education in Australia has been following a growth trajectory unmatched for the past 20 years. In this paper for the ACPET Journal for Private Higher Education, Dan Edwards (ACER and Monash University) shows that, while the recent growth in university enrolments over the past few years has been facilitated by the federal government’s demand-driven funding policy in public universities, private providers have also been expanding and contributing to the overall national aims of increasing attainment. With the 2013 initial university offer figures showing a slowing of growth in universities for the first time since demand-driven funding was announced, the role of non-universities in maintaining the growth trajectory for higher education, as well as helping to achieve key attainment and participation targets, is heightened. Edwards suggests that now is the time for considering the role that private providers and TAFEs will play in the Australian higher education sector in the coming decades. read-more-button2

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quote marks ….the extension of demand-driven funding beyond public universities would likely have an immediate impact on student numbers. With the improved regulatory procedures now in place through TEQSA, the potential for continued and considered expansion through non-university providers is significant. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

14 June 2013

Time to replace stop-start funding

research4Following federal elections some policy promises bear fruit, others vanish or, worse still, get in the way, writes Merlin Crossley (UNSW). During the 2010 election campaign, tertiary sector policies were strangely absent. In 2007, with its education revolution, Labor had a lot to offer. In the research policy arena, the big non-starter was hubs and spokes, a vision of research collaboration and engagement that we don’t hear much about these days. Hubs and spokes had several features that were politically attractive. No university would miss out and no matter where you were, you could dream of being a hub but you could still be a spoke if that wasn’t to be. The policy picked up the idea of critical mass and precincts (hubs) and regional support and inclusivity (spokes). Hubs and spokes sang of collaboration but also paid lip service to the reality of prioritisation. read-more-button2

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quote marks…one begins to look not for an educational revolution, nor for masterly inaction, but for consolidated moderate investment and a research strategy – an end to the uncertainties of start-stop funding. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

11 June 2013 

Giving Giving it away for free

Sharing really is caring in the open education movement

Open edcucationThe New York Times dubbed 2012 the year of the MOOC. And for many, the seemingly unstoppable rise of Massive Open Online Courses – courses which are offered for free by prestigious universities – is where the discussion about open education begins and ends. But MOOCs are only the most visible part of a larger movement, one that is slowly but surely transforming the way we do education and think about educational products and services. Welcome to the world of open educational resources (OER). OERs include everything from peer-created and edited texts and ebooks to sound recordings and videos that are licensed for open use and re-use. Where publishers normally impose hefty fees (mainly paid for by students) for the use of their products and services, and impose restrictions on how content can be used, the ethos of the open educational resource movement is share and share alike. read-more-button2

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quote marksRather than locking users into a particular format or a particular publishing ecosystem, such as iTunesU, the OER movement encourages experimentation and reuse via the open web. More particularly, the OER movement seeks nothing less than a revolution in breaking down the barriers to sharing knowledge, especially those barriers that separate the developed and developing worlds.

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TDA

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4 June 2013    |     As the number of students at Australian universities soars to record levels, is a degree still worth having or is it just a waste of time and money? asks Lucinda Schmidt in The Age .

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A matter of degrees

mortarboardIn October, more than 50,000 Victorian year 12 students will sit their final school exams. More than half will flock to university next March, eager to cast aside the shackles of school and embrace a staggeringly different world of unsupervised study. For some, their university course is a ticket punch en route to a solid career, while for others it’s more about campus life and making new friends. And for some, perhaps, there’s that old-fashioned notion of a well-rounded education; learning how to think critically, reason analytically and reflect on personal growth. Whatever their motivation, the one certain thing in the labyrinthine world of higher education is that a university degree ain’t what it used to be. With student numbers escalating – not just in Australia but globally – a bachelor’s degree has well and truly lost its elite status.

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Are Australians really “anti-intellectual”?

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do."

“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

16 May 2013    |    UNSW academic Alecia Simmonds thinks that in “Straya, we don’t give a dead dingo’s donger about academics”. Universities therefore made a perfect target recent budget cuts for the because, like few other Western countries, Australia hates thinkers (who inhabit universities). Well, it’s heart felt opinion and entertaining reading but is it fair, we ask ourselves? If you think of Andrew Bolt as “imbecilic” – as some people do – it should have nothing much to do with the fact that he “never made it past first year uni”, so much as it’s about despising his attitudes and pronouncements. On the other hand, if you think of Paul Keating as a cultured, politically courageous visionary – as some people do – you wouldn’t think any the less of him for the fact that his highest education attainment was the equivalent of a TAFE Cert II in bookkeeping, would you? Slavoj Zizek might write regular columns in The Guardian Weekly but Tim Soutphommasane writes regularly for Fairfax Media (and before that The Australian) as does Waleed Ali (Aly is a bit annoying, actually – he’s seemingly good at most things). And just as Simmonds despairs for Australia, Isaac Asimov despaired that

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Read the article HERE and vote.

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Protest scenes

Crowd shot. 14 May 2013 | University staff and students rallied across the country today, protesting against $2.3 billion in funding cuts to the sector. Perhaps 2,000 attended the Melbourne rally outside the State Library. Lots of noise and colour and slogans – “no ifs, no buts, we won’t take your funding cuts”. Serious speeches, sprinkled with what The Australian calls “class warfare” talk but leavened with humour – “they want me to tighten my belt – I don’t even have a bloody belt” – “we know where the missing $17 billion is – Gina’s back pocket”. read more button

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Should universities suffer to pay for schools funding?

The university cuts announced on 13 April are significant, and not just for the amount of money involved writes Andrew Norton in The Conversation.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . classroomExcept for the “efficiency dividend” [which will have to come straight off university budget bottom lines and impact quality] there is at least an arguable case for each policy change. But these latest announcements add to a long list of messy, ad hoc higher education cuts without any obvious strategy to save money at least expense to public policy goals. Frequent fiddling undermines policies that are retained as well as those that are cut, as nobody knows what will go next. Long-term decision making by universities, their staff and their students needs more policy stability than we have. read-more-button2 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Money, actually

17 April 2013 | Opposition education spokesperson Christopher Pyne, among others, is fond of saying that improving school performance is not about injecting more money into underperforming schools but “values” and creating “a culture of performance” (Wrong fix for failing schools?). “Values” and “school culture” undoubtedly count but, on top of that, the evidence from the classroom demonstrates that so does adequate resourcing (which comes down to funding).

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Highlights from TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 from Australia’s perspective

More than half (57%) of Australian Year 4 students were reported to be “somewhat affected” by resource shortages related to reading, 54 per pencilcent by resource shortages related to mathematics and 68% by resource shortages related to science. Forty-six per cent of the principals of Australian Year 8 students reported similar levels of shortages in mathematics and 52% in science. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A little extra is all they need

PrincipalDandenong North Primary School principal Kevin Mackay believes his school is proof that disadvantaged students produce great results when given the right support. And he expects Dandenong North will be a major winner if the Gonski education reforms are introduced in Victoria. We’re the test case to show that it can work, that putting money into disadvantaged schools can make a difference. We were at a stage in 2012 where the cost of our staff had reached a point where we were no longer able to pay.

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TAFE remote from industry?

That’s not what the evidence shows, says John Mitchell.

11 April 2013 | The rationale for what seems a never-ending process of “skills reform” is the proposition that TAFE is remote from industry and unresponsive to industry needs. In a study undertaken for TAFE Directors Australia, Reinventing Service Delivery, VET policy analyst and commentator John Mitchell finds quite the contrary. His five case studies of TAFE institutes show how effectively TAFEs are in working with industry clients in meeting one or more of key business and government goals‒increased productivity including global competitiveness, flexible workforces, highly qualified staff building careers, skills for the new economy and regional growth. TDA says that:

Based on the evidence in the five case studies – which are part of the set of more than 80 case studies Mitchell has prepared since 2007 – and on the data collected from 25 TAFE Institutes using capability analysis tools from 2010-2012,the paper argues that a high value can be placed on the existing human capital residing in TAFE Institutes. Staff have developed that capability overtime and through extensive experience, and this demonstrable capability is a cause for optimism about the future impact of TAFE on Australian industry.

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The quality of education spending

Hands up11 April 2013    |    Next week, the Council of Australian Governments, comprising the Prime Minister and Premiers and Chief Ministers, meet to consider reform of schools funding, following on from the Gonski review. The price tag of the reforms is estimated to be $6.5 billion a year, when fully implemented. In the shadow boxing ahead of the meeting, Coalition states (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland) are raising doubts about the funding plan. These states have actually been cutting education funding. One of the refrains is that improving the performance of our schools, which is said to be falling against international benchmarks, is not about injecting more money but about something called “values”. In a recent opinion piece, the Grattan Institute’s Ben Jensen seems to agree,with the tag line reading “raising teachers’ classroom skills is far more important than raising money”. But what’s the key to raising teachers’ classroom skills? Jensen concludes that it requires

….teachers having mentors, getting proper feedback about their work, being required to do research on education in collaboration with other teachers, under an umbrella of sustained professional learning.

All of which, of course, costs money. Jensen sets out a four measures, which add up to $6.1 billion a year:

  1. School principal training – $181 million
  2. Teacher mentoring – $2.1 billion
  3. Teacher research groups – $1 billion
  4. Specialist literacy and numeracy teachers in every primary school – $1.7 billion.

Jensen makes a fairly obvious point that it’s just not the quantity of the spend, important as that is , it will be the quality of the spend that will be critical to improving school performance. To read Jensen’s piece, go HERE. For another take on the politics of schools funding see Bernard Keane – Why Cristopher Pyne should go back to school . _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The tide goes out

Reflections of a once petty official

Spooner-Cross-23-Mar-600x400

The ALP leadership contretemps has been fodder for cartoonists …this one by The Age’s John Spooner is among the best.

24 March 2013

Former Rudd/Gillard government speechwriter Dennis Glover, in an opinion piece (Blood will have blood) published in the Australian Financial Review the day after the ALP Leadership abortive spill, put it that:

…only people who had never read Macbeth or Julius Caesar could have thought that any good could possibly come of the slaughter of Kevin Rudd, not yet through his first term.

But Rudd wasn’t slaughtered: he was sacked and he was sacked because he was no good and the government of which he was leader was completely dysfunctional. This was apparent very early in the piece. John Lyons wrote in June 2008 (Captain Chaos and the workings of inner circle), barely 6 months into Rudd’s Prime Ministership, that Rudd himself was (and presumably remains) a driven micromanager, who effectively couldn’t see the forest for the trees. And his office?

The two words most commonly used about Rudd’s office are chaotic and dysfunctional.

The problem for the ALP is that Julia Gillard has been no more capable of providing the sort of disciplined leadership which a prime minister – indeed, the leader of any political party – has to be able to deliver than Rudd was. read-more-button2

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22 March 2013

Open Universities launches bite-sized MOOC platform

OUA open2StudyAustralia’s leading online higher education provider, Open Universities Australia (OUA), has unveiled its own free online education venture, Open2Study. OUA describes Open2Study as “a new dimension in online learning, … designed with the online student in mind.“ Paul Wappett, OUA chief executive says Open2Study Open2Study isn’t a me-too MOOC:

… it’s objective is not merely attracting massive enrolments. It’s the next evolution in online learning, centred on student success. Open2Study provides an engaging and compelling education based on a comprehensive pedagogical model that recognises that online learners behave differently, and have different needs from on-campus learners.

Course materials comprise a mixture of six to 10 minute videos, animations, simulations and quizzes, designed using high production values Launched with 10 subjects, including Financial Planning and Introduction to Nursing there’s a pipeline of a couple of hundred and OUA expects to offer 40 to 50subjects by the end of 2013. Open2Study courses commence on 22 April.

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Numbers that don’t add up

Merlin Crossley22 March 2013    |    With universities paying about $100,000 a year to employ full-time managers dedicated to liaising with ranking agencies and “clever reporting”, rather than a surge in knowledge, said to explain the surprisingly good results of the Excellence in Research for Australia quality audit, dean of science at UNSW Merlin Crossley writes that the numbers used to measure performance in educational institutions create a lot of discussion – and angst – because of their obvious imperfections.

National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy scores in schools don’t measure creativity, Australian Tertiary Admission Rank cut-offs for university courses don’t reflect future potential and using student feedback to rate teaching is regarded as little better than running a popularity contest. Excellence in Research for Australia quality assessments and journal ranking scores do not respect locally important research, journal citations and impact factors vary wildly between disciplines and world university rankings are backward-looking and disadvantage newer institutions. Then there are the collected metrics of the controversial MySchool and MyUniversity websites, which gather imperfect measures into tables, apparently compounding error and threatening the whole system. There seems to be a general anxiety that people will blindly use these flawed but interesting numbers. In contrast, no one seems to worry about numbers in sport or other endeavours. Every game involves scoring and many sports have a ladder of some sort – it’s all good fun. read-more-button2

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TAFE sector needs more than a band aid

EDUCATION RALLY MELBOURNE15 March 2013    |     There might be a new premier in Victoria, but it seems there’s still no good news for TAFEs. The $200 million in structural adjustment funding announced this week is certainly welcome, but it is simply too little, too late. The Victorian government should have made such provision almost a year ago when it abruptly took a meat cleaver to TAFE funding, hacking out $300 million. The damage from these cuts has been monumental. But what is more worrying is the way these cuts have signalled a changing role for TAFEs in Victoria with repercussions for the quality of vocational education and the wider economy. read-more-button2 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Research cuts mean saving cash only to ignore the future

15 March 2013   |    When we discover the formula for something that does actually work why would we let it fritter away, asks Les field (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at UNSW). We need to decouple research funding from the kind of short-term thinking that electoral cycles and politicised budget priorities drive.

Research2 In the case of the Future Fellowship Scheme there’s a lot at risk. The five-year scheme’s final round closed this month with nothing in the wings to take its place and nothing to ensure its benefits don’t simply evaporate when the current funding runs out. The Future Fellowships have brought 200 mid-career researchers a year into the Australian research sector, building a critical mass in research areas which address national challenges and help Australia secure its position in a globalised knowledgeeconomy. At UNSW, Future Fellowships have supported the development of world-class research groups and capabilities in a range of disciplines and applications, from quantum computing and photovoltaics to climate change and sustainable materials. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of this talent would have otherwise gone offshore. read-more-button2

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Why the feds should stay out of schools

22 February 2013    |    Only the states have any hope of driving improvements in Australia’s schools, writes Ben Jensen, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute.

Hands upIn 2011 the Gillard government announced it would pay high-performing teachers a bonus. From next year, the scheme will pay up to 8000 teachers one-off bonuses of $7500 or $10,000. It sounds like a good idea to reward teachers who perform well but are often paid poorly. It isn’t. The policy is one of a host of federal government interventions in school education that are not only ineffective, they are doing damage to much-needed reform. In Australia, the states and the non-government systems run schools. The commonwealth’s scheme therefore pays a bonus to state government employees. This breaks a fundamental rule of good governance and management: it gives employees two bosses. Should teachers follow the instructions of their state employer, or should they try to work in a way that nets them a federal payout? The program is confusing for schools and teachers. It was no surprise that when teachers protested against the federal bonus scheme most blamed their state employers, not the federal government.

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Susie Mandley checks out of TAFE

Gordon TAFE teacher Susie Mandley put together a virtual compendium of of analysis, comment and reporting on Victoria’s TAFE/VET funding cuts on her Scoop.It! site, TAFE in Victoria. It currently comprises about 1600 items and runs to 63 pages. But Susie herself is a victim of the cuts. Here’s her valedictory. __________________________________________________

susie-mandley1So as I pack my career into boxes, I cry a little inside for what was a wonderful public TAFE system that gave so much to the communities. I worry a bit for the future of this wonderful public TAFE system, and I wonder a lot at the thinking of a publicly elected government that so readily wielded an axe at this wonderful public TAFE system. read-more-button2 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Queensland skills reform

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The Queensland government has released a moderate and measured response to The Skills and Training Taskforce’s final report

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Qld TAFE1 December 2012 | As always with a complex reform process, the devil will be in the detail and the implementation – one suspects there will be significant moments of drama ahead over industrial relations and the level of public subsidy for specific courses. But in its approach to skills reform and moving to greater contestability, the Queensland government has adopted a moderate and measured plan. The least that might be said of it is that it eschews the the Victorian Götterdämmerung model. And overall, if you’re going to have skills reform, this is a pretty good plan. read-more-button2

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ATAR not everything

30 November 2012 Recent reports are much exaggerated that there will be a lowering of standards and eventually some type of armageddon because universities are admitting “sub-par” students, as measured by their ATAR, writes the University of Ballarat’s urbane vice-chancellor David Battersby. Data published in the Base Funding Review final report indicated that almost half of students who entered university in 2005 on an ATAR between 30 and 59 had completed by 2010. At best, the ATAR score is an imperfect predictor of performance at university. Others argue that it should be completely abandoned because it provides no qualified prediction of a student’s capacity to study or complete a degree. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

State should butt out of unis – NTEU

Government says unis asked the state to butt in

17 November 2012 The Victorian government has introduced the Education Legislation Amendment (Governance) Bill 2012, which will dump requirements for councils to have elected student and staff members on university councils and TAFE boards, give the government a stronger say in council appointments and the whole say in TAFE board appointements.  The changes are being strongly disputed by staff and students.  But according to the government, in respect of university councils, the government is acting at the behest of the universities themselves (with the apparent exception of the University of Melbourne, which has been openly critical of the changes). [Continue reading]… ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Making PhD degrees relevant for the ‘real world’

25 October 2012

Compared to many other countries, Australia is in danger of falling behind when it comes to producing well-rounded PhD graduates. Monash is one of the first Australian universities to respond to this challenge with the new ‘Monash PhD’ to be rolled out in 2013, according to Max King, pro vice-chancellor research at Monash University.

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The university experience – then & now

25 October 2012

After a distinguished and sometimes controversial career, Robert Manne reflects on the changes in the university experience, as he approaches retirement. It was different then – but every thing was different then…

I hope not to be misunderstood. Once it was decided to transform the universities into something called the higher education sector where traditional disciplines and old professions were joined by courses designed for the purpose of training the workforce, and once it was decided to obliterate the distinction between universities and colleges of purely vocational training, and once it was decided that up to 40% of the population ought to go to institutions of higher education frequently called universities, very many of the changes to the idea of the university that I have witnessed over the past forty years were both inevitable and sensible.

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Future is elite….?

24 October 2012 | A report by consultancy firm Ernst & Youngpredicts that only elite, research-intensive universities with global brands will exist in their current form in 15 years, while the rest will be forced to rethink their business models as decreasing government funding, increased competition and online technologies reshape the higher education landscape.

….or back to the future?

24 October 2012 | The National Tertiary Education Union urges caution in accepting the inevitability of the direction of change to universities predicted in the University of the future report. It says if we are not careful, the Ernst and Young report will be read like a Back to the Futurescript for the pre-Dawkins era. This is not the way forward to the exciting opportunities enabled by digital technology and global mobility. National President Jeannie Rea puts it this way:

Responsibility sits with the government to ensure that our highly respected public university system is funded to deliver on the expectations of the community and industry.

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From unease to alarm: the flawed process of VET reform

18 October 2012    |    To inform future policy decisions about VET,  education and training consultant John Mitchell has collated 22 of the articles he has written for Campus Review over the last year, on the concerns raised by ‘VET reform’ and the cutbacks to TAFE.  The articles show that, over the twelve months from October 2011, VET reform based on the three pillars of “market design”, “student entitlement” and “contestability”remained elusive, as VET reform requires some foundational elements not yet in place, including well-informed consumers,well-resourced regulators and effective barriers to profiteering providers.

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The 2012 Ig Noble Prizes for Improbable Research

Nobel Prize laureates Eric Maskin, Rich Roberts and Dudley Herschbach lean over behind a mini Eiffel Tower during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

11 October 2012 | It’s the Nobel Prize season, with daily announcements coming from Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden of this year’s recipients of the prestigious awards. Late in September the Ig Noble Prizes for “improbable research that makes people laugh and then think” were announced in a ceremony at Harvard University. This year’s recipients include Dutch researchers who won the psychology prize for studying why leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower look smaller; four Americans who took the neuroscience prize for demonstrating that sophisticated equipment can detect brain activity in dead fish; and a British-American team that won the physics prize for explaining how and why ponytails bounce. This year’s literature prize was awarded the US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports. Sadly, no Australians figured in this year’s awards.

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That was then …this is now

11 October    |     ACU vice-chancellor Greg Craven says the states are abandoning higher education.  Let’s compare and contrast Professor Craven’s current views with those he expressed at a Senate Committee hearing  last year concerning the legislation to establish the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.   And given Professor Craven is a Constitutional law expert,  let’s get that right as well.   It’s not actually the states ignoring their Constitutional responsibility  for the sector.  Under the Constitution, responsibility for education does reside with the states and the states were the primary funders of higher education until 1975, the Whitlam government negotiated the transfer of funding responsibility for higher education to the Commonwealth and it became a Commonwealth responsibility.

States ‘take more than they give’

9 October 2012

States are squandering a potential competitive advantage by failing to support universities financially, according to Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven.

Craven said there had been “occasional outbreaks of munificence”, such as Queensland’s Smart State scheme which funnelled significant sums into university coffers, which was wound down by the Bligh government and closed down by .the Newman government. Victoria, also traditionally a relatively generous state to its universities, has similarly wound down funding this year.

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New standards agency loosens grip of states

27 April 2011 At Senate committee hearings on the TEQSA legislation, the universities, through Universities Australia, repudiated the claims of the states. Greg Craven declared federalism had failed in tertiary education and that promoting the role of the states was akin to “flogging a dead parrot”. Circumstances have obviously changed. In 2005, Craven was the co-author of a report that recognised state and territory governments had a legitimate interest in the institutions within their jurisdictions because they provided financial and in-kind assistance to them and because the institutions directly affected regional and state economies and intersected with schools and vocational education and training systems. But one effect of excluding the states from the table may be a scaling back of their active interest in universities, which includes substantial capital contributions to university infrastructure by states such as Victoria and Queensland. [Continue reading]....

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The fractured social settlement in VET in Australia

11 October 2012

Leesa Wheelahan argues that the “social settlement” around VET has broken down and needs to restored if Australia is to fully realise its growth potential and individual Australians fulfil their own potential. She says that the drive towards “marketisation” of VET has lost sight of the broader purposes of VET (the “E” in VET), which were conceived as not only preparing people for work but developing the individual and providing second-chance education. The result is a low trust system based on a market where the costs of entry are low and the rewards high. Australia needs a

…new social settlement based on trust in a system where quality is high and the cost of entry is high. Governments have a key role to play here – they need to articulate the role of TAFE as a public educational institution that must be supported to ensure we meet the future skill needs of Australia, but also that we build a tolerant and inclusive society with opportunities for all.

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Schooling federalism

4 October 2012

This has been a significant year for Australian federalism and intergovernmental relations, particularly in schooling.  In this conference paper,  Bronwyn Hinze and Brian Galligan of  The University of Melbourne analyse the landmark Gonski Review of School Funding and the Williams High Court case on the Commonwealth’s school chaplains programs and the extent to which two landmark events – one judicial, one political – could represent a turning point or relatively minor setbacks in the Commonwealth government’s five-decade march into the education portfolio, with broader implications for other tied grant programs.

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What rankings do – and don’t – tell us 

4 October 2012

The challenge of rankings, writes Gwilym Croucher (University of Melbourne) is recognising their value without using them in perverse ways.

Despite the limitations in what any ranking can tell us, they still have an important story to tell.  It is not what individual institutions have done in the past or how their peers view them, but rather that the Australian system is doing well, and in this way we “punch above our weight”.  Like any imperfect proxy, the rankings of individual institutions hint at the health of the system overall, even if there are inevitable instances where we can do better.  As the Times press release reflects, Australia does well on the average movement of our top 200 institutions, with our universities from this top group raising an average of 15 places.

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Best  of  the  Thesis  Whisperer

28 September 2012

The Thesis Whisperer has written a bookOr, more precisely, in Inger  Mewburn’s  own words, she’s compiled one out of blog posts on the Thesis Whisperer site   It’s  up on Amazon for $3.99 AUD – a price point carefully calibrated to match the cost of a cup of coffee in Inger’s home town, Melbourne.   Inger says that a book provides a structured reading experience that a blog just can’t because it’s not sequential.

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Learning  from  Finland  on  schools  education

28 September 2012

The Finnish education system is one of the best performing and most equitable in the OECD.

In this article,  The Conversation presents a discussion between two of the world’s leading education experts on how Australia can learn from others and improve its educational outcomes.   Pasi Sahlberg is Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in the Ministry of Education in Finland.  Professor John Hattie is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

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V-C’s take on going dual sector

27 September 2012    |    With the recent in principle approval of the Queensland government for the merger of Central Queensland University (CQU) and Central Queensland Institute of TAFE to create Australia’s sixth dual sector university,  there have apparently been concerns within the university community about the possible negative impact on its reputation as a university.  Here, CQU addresses these concerns:

…let me reassure all students – past, present and future – that the CQUniversity degree you currently have mounted on the wall, or that you hope to attain in the coming months and years, will be worth just as much “post-dual sector” as it is today. In fact, it may be worth a whole lot more.

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Would you like fries with that degree?

20 September    |    Higher education is becoming a commodity which is means more and more, universities are seen as sellers and students as consumers, writes David Pick in The Conversation.

It’s a competitive market and competition is fierce.  Over the past twenty years, universities have also become more businesses-like in many areas of their operations.  As government has reduced funding, they have become more reliant on income from fee-paying students.

At the same time, fees are also increasing for international and domestic students who are more choosy about where they want to study and conscious of wanting “value for money” (often measured through job prospects after graduation).

Caught between squeezed budgets and intense competition for students, the temptation for universities to overstate things a little might be irresistible.

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Time to rethink higher ed institutions….?

20 September    |    Maybe it’s time to rethink the conception of “university”….and focus a bit more  on the teaching mission.

Under present standards, mandated by the Commonwealth governments, a university college is classified as a university on training wheels, with an institution allowed five years to satisfy the requirements of becoming a comprehensive university  However, with little trouble,  a university college could be classified as a stand-alone institution with a requirement for research in at least one broad field of study. This would make it not much different from a university of specialisation….Continue reading]…

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Moscow on the Molonglo

20 September    |   The phrase “Moscow on the Molonglo” was coined in reference to an era of Coalition industrial and governance intervention in universities and controls on fees and enrolments, writes Glenn Withers, former CEO of Universities Australia.

The issue has returned with a vengeance, this time under Labor, as university authorities come to terms with the new regulator – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) – which universities claim is tying them up in red tape.  But TEQSA has been far more nuanced than its  twin in vocational education and training, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), which takes a very blunt interventionist approach….[Continue reading]…

Cuts to humanities will “hurt La Trobe”

20 September     |     Cuts to the humanities and social sciences faculty at La Trobe University have been the source of much debate among the academic community, and anger among affected staff and students.  This culminated in a stand-off between protestors and Vice-Chancellor John Dewar at the university’s open day last month.  But according to Virginia Mansel Lees , in his recent contribution to The Conversation, Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar’s made some questionable claims about the state of humanities at La Trobe….[Continue reading]…

Why everyone should be concerned by TAFE funding cuts

20 September    |   Recent funding cuts suggest state governments have failed to appreciate how important TAFE is to our economy and the community more generally.  To them the vital work TAFE does is invisible.  But while TAFE’s effect might not be visible to politicians, it is an essential economic, social and cultural support for Australian communities and regions….[Continue reading]…

Lords of the universe?

23 September   |  Anyone with a passing interest in public policy would have been fascinated by the speech by Jennifer Westacott (CEO Business Council of Australia) to the Institute of Public Administration Australia on 20 September.  She took the stick to the political class generally and to Ministerial staffers in particular, who she obviously thinks wield to much influence if not power.

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Improving indigenous access to higher education 

16 September 2012

Universities Australia Chair Glyn Davis observes that education transforms lives, and the Behrendt Review proposes an Australia in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are well represented in each new class and on staff, a familiar part of the university community.   It is an inspiring vision of the nation we can become.

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A crisis in VET regulation….?

7 September 2012

The ABC’s  7.30  current affairs report early this month looked at alleged dodgy training in vocational education and training and suggested that the demise of TAFEs and rise of private training companies “could be the biggest crisis in education that this country has ever seen.”  7.30 returned to the issue on 5 September.

Susan Carty has been training students in aged care for almost two decades.  She’s currently working for a reputable community college in suburban Victoria.

In 2010 Carty was employed by Pow Wow as a curriculum writer. When she started she says she noticed that Pow Wow was signing off and qualifying students in aged care without any practical placements or training. She asked the company why.

SUSAN CARTY, FORMER POW WOW TRAINER: He said, “Oh, we don’t do placements,” and I said to him, “Well you realise they’re not gonna get a job if they don’t get placement.” And he said, “Yes. I don’t – you know, but that doesn’t really matter,” sort of thing.

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ACER’s Higher Education Update

7 September 2012

Published bi-annually, the ACER Higher Education Update provides an overview of ACER’s contributions to higher education research and development.  Edition ten reviews :

  • Planning student and graduate flows
  • Engaging students in education
  • Assessing learning outcomes
  • Continuous technical improvement.

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“Taxation without education is tyranny”

7 September 2012

Hundreds of TAFE staff, students and supporters attended rallies protesting the State government’s deep TAFE funding cuts when the Legislative Assembly sat in Ballarat and the Legislative Council in Bendigo on 6 September.

NTEU Victorian Division Secretary Dr Colin Long told the  Ballarat  rally that concerns about the TAFE cuts had been raised all over the state by unions, students, staff, TAFE CEOs, business leaders, churches, school councils and school principals.  Never has there been such a concerted outpouring of anger about the treatment of education in Victoria, he said.

 The TAFE cuts are hitting regional areas hardest. Jobs, courses, campuses are already gone and going. Add the cuts to fire fighting budgets announced this week, the cuts to the public service, including the Department of Primary Industries, and, once again, the pattern is clear.

In 1854 the Ballarat Reform League met at Bakery Hill to pass a resolution that formed the basis of the movement that we commemorate today as the Eureka Rebellion: “…that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny’.

We will borrow this resolution today and assert with one strong voice: ‘taxation without education is tyranny’.

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A TAFE student’s letter to the Premier

1 September  s012

….TAFE is an institution that gives everyone a pathway to learn.  By reducing TAFE funding you are cutting our society’s opportunity to contribute to the world in which we live; you are ripping the choices not just from our youth, but from our communities.… The message from this Government that budget cuts are necessary has been loud and clear. What I question is where the cuts have been made, and the basis for the decision.  The funding cuts to VCAL and TAFE, combined with the 950 staff cuts in the Education Department itself, show a strong disregard for the Victorian constituency and for improving or even maintaining educational standards in Victoria.

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University rankings here to stay, but should come with ‘health warnings’

30 August 2012

University rankings should come with “health warnings” and clear methodological information, but will continue to grow in influence and reach, despite criticism, says Phil Baty the editor of the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings.   Baty has moved to defend rankings after James Cook vice-chancellor Sandra Harding publicly declared a boycott of the THE rankings, and Adelaide University vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington argued university rankings are failing student consumers.  University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Jan Thomas has argued global rankings “ask only for conformity” when diversity is what’s needed in higher education, and Monash University’s Robert Nelson has bemoaned the influence that research income has upon many ranking indicators.

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Thesis Whisperer turns 2

30 August 2012

The Thesis Whisperer, a newspaper style blog dedicated to helping research students everywhere, has turned two.  The Whisperer’s editor Dr Inger Mewburn of RMIT University reflects on the vicissitudes of blogging and goes behind the curtain to reveal facts and stats.  The most popular post on Whisperer over the past year was that now classic, The Valley of Shit.

The Thesis Whisperer started as a blog called ‘Research News blog’ on [RMIT’s] University Learning Management System (LMS) ‘Blackboard’. I think the closed format of Blackboard, which required an RMIT login, might account for the disappointing 26 hits it had in the time it was there.  I was wondering whether I should bother carrying on with it when a student rang and asked me if I was “The Thesis Whisperer”.  I laughed because it seemed such a good job description for my strange occupation as research educator.  The next day I realised that it would be a great new name for the blog and embarked in a ‘re-branding’ exercise, starting with a move to WordPress.

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Leadership is in eminent scientist’s genes

29 August 2012

 For her passionate commitment to research and science communication, Professor Cory, former director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI)  and current president of the Australian Academy of Science, has won the 2012 Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science.

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VC honoured for health care research

28 August  2012

Swinburne Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson has been awarded the Bethlehem Griffiths Research Foundation (BGRF) Medal for her contributions to palliative care research and education over the past three decades.  Professor Kristjanson’s pioneering work has resulted in better symptom management and a reduction in psychological distress for palliative care patients as well as more effective support for their families.

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Three young scientists  recognised for their life-transforming work

28 August 2012

The $25,000 L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand For Women in Science Fellowships for 2012 have been awarded to three remarkable young Australian and New Zealand  women scientists.

  • Dr Suetonia Palmer, University of Otago, Christchurch
  • Dr Baohua Jia, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
  • Dr Kylie Mason, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research/Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne.

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 1000 scoops on Victoria’s TAFE cuts

23 August 2012 The Victorian state government’s cuts to TAFE in the May budget put vocational training front and centre of public attention and generated enormous public interest (uniformly negative) and media coverage.   Susie Mandley has “scooped” just about every one of them on her news aggregation site TAFE in Victoria.  On the occasion of her 1000th scoop, Susie put down her own reflections on the impact of these cuts.

The building of social capital is such an essential part of a civilised society…TAFE has a contract with society- to enrich it. They more than fulfill this obligation.  Their most important stakeholder is the community.

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Jack Keating

 22 July 2012
Jack Keating died on the afternoon of 21 July 2012 .  As colleague Leesa Wheelahan noted of Jack:

He was a great friend and mentor for many of us.  His work in our field has been very important, and he has done more than anyone I know to change policy, raise the status of VET and insist on its importance, particularly for the most disadvantaged. We will all miss him very much.

For those of you who don’t know of him, Jack was a significant thinker and shaper of ideas and policy on equity in education – and, as you might expect, a rather gentle and much loved person among those who did know him. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Unis open up to more diverse enrolments

12 July 2012

University enrolments by regional and Indigenous students have increased to record levels, reversing an historical trend.

Commencements for students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds increased by 3.3% per cent to 56,710, while total enrolments of low SES increased by 26,456 since 2007, or 23.9%.

The growth rate in indigenous university enrolments is almost double that of the overall population. However, this falls a long way short of closing the gap, with indigenous people comprising 1.3% of university students but making up 2.5% of the population.  In 2011, a total of 5,381 Indigenous students commenced a university course, an increase of 6.1% from 2010.  Since 2007 the number of Indigenous students studying at university has increased by 2,437, or 26%.   [Continue Reading]…

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Victoria skews national training effort

12  July 2012

A new NCVER report – Australian vocational education and training statistics: Students and courses 2011– suggests extraordinary growth in Victoria has reshaped the national training sector, skewing enrolments into a handful of qualifications and more than doubling the proportion of publicly funded students who attend private training.   The number of publicly funded vocational students in Australia rose by 82,000 last year.  Of these, 77,000 were in Victoria.   [Continue Reading]…

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Who made the big difference in broadening access?

12 July 2012 The grand old man of Australian politics turned 96 on 11 July.  Writing in The Age, Geoff Cooper said that Gough Whitlam’s visionary tertiary education scheme opened up doors for many.

Many thousands, no millions, of baby boomers should join in a very loud chorus to sing the praises of this much maligned but incredible Australian.

Current Commonwealth minister Chris Evans joined the chorus, saying that “one of Whitlam’s most enduring achievements was the opening up of our nation’s universities, allowing a new generation to access the benefits of higher education.”

But commenting from his perch in Carlton, Andrew Norton counters that, while access to higher education did expand under Gough, his reforms was not as significant as many people imagine they were.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were the turning point for improving working class higher education participation.  School completion rates had increased dramatically during the 1980s, and the big HECS-financed John Dawkins led expansion in university places gave them somewhere to go.  Dawkins and the most Labor state education ministers of the 1980s were more important than Whitlam in opening up education for people of all classes.  Gillard is responsible for another wave of expansion since 2009, which also seems to be bringing in low SES students in large numbers.

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Ruptions at the top?

12 July 2012

Phil Clarke, the Victorian government’s  second in charge of skills, has moved on barely a month after assuming leadership of a taskforce to help the state’s TAFEs survive the massive May budget cuts.  The taskforce had been set up to run for between 12 and 18 months.   Clarke is regarded as easily the most knowledgeable Victorian skills bureaucrat, with two decades of experience at the state and national level, as set out in a glowing tribute  emailed to staff, which bore all the hallmarks of a bureaucratic obituary.  [Continue Reading]…

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NTEU protests Lilydale closure

12 July 2012

Following the announcement that Swinburne proposes to close its Lilydale campus in  Melbourne’s inner east, the National Tertiary Education Union is organising a protest rally for Monday 16 July.   [Continue Reading]…

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Anatomy of a scam?

9 July 2012

In this insightful blog,  The Australian’s  John Ross examines how an “inventive” private training provider  managed to deliver a nominal 700 hour course in just 15 hours and receive, after kickbacks and giveaways, net public  funding of $3500 – $233 per student per hour –  all apparently within the rules.  The provider was ultimately deregistered, not on quality grounds or for alleged “rorting” – remember, it was all within the rules – but for failing a financial viability test.  The matter is now before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Everyone knew there were holes in Australian college regulation. And everyone knew those holes were one of the reasons Australia’s $18 billion international education industry had become a $15bn industry, and falling.

But it takes local knowledge to really test the outer edges of a regulatory loophole roughly the size of the Southern Star ferris wheel.

[Continue Reading]…

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“Lazy thinking” leads to poor policymaking

5 July 2012
Higher education students are taught never to cut intellectual corners.  But higher education policy makers do it all the time, according to the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton.  It’s time to do better , he suggests. [Continue Reading]…
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On finding the “God particle”….

4 July 2012

The confirmation of the existence of Higgs boson – the so-called “God particle’, an elusive sub-atomic particle that is believed to confer mass – has created fevered excitement in theoretical physics circles and confused interest among the rest of us.  American physicist Michio Kakau explains that the existence of Higgs boson will open the floodgates for a whole new branch of theoretical physics:

 There are some eternal questions that cannot be answered in the framework of conventional physics.  Is time travel possible?  Are there gateways to other universes?  Are the other dimensions?

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Virtual learning world expands as universities go online

28 June 2012

Link to OUA website

A vast and ever-increasing number of the world’s students are studying for degrees without ever setting foot on a campus writes Geoff Maslin on this feature on Open Universities Australiain World University News.

Open Universities Australia (OUA), the 20-year-old antipodean pioneer of online learning, is a prime example – it has experienced an unprecedented doubling in enrolments over the past four years.More than 55,000 students now select from the OUA’s 1,400 units and 170 qualifications offered by 20 Australian universities and other tertiary education providers, including polytechnic institutes.  Paul Wappett, OUA chief executive says the expansion in student numbers is a reflection of the attractiveness of online education to fit with our students’ lifestyles and work commitments:

But we wouldn’t have had that growth without quality education outcomes, and that’s because we have the best courses from the best universities and are able to choose those providers – that is very attractive.

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Beware the rise of worthless qualifications

16 June 2012 Adele Horin observes in the Sydney Morning Herald that when consumers buy a faulty television, they can take it back on warranty.

But there is no comeback for job seekers with a worthless certificate from a dodgy provider that testifies to skills they do not possess, a fact that will be exposed soon enough.  The NSW government is in the throes of deciding how far it will go down the Victorian path…Scorched earth is not the way to go.  The point of reform is not to give money to private providers but to provide quality training.

People who went to university and whose children go, or are destined to go, to university usually have little interest in the plebeian matters of skills training or the fate of TAFE, an institution erroneously associated with blue singlets and tools. No matter that 600,000 more people go to TAFE than to university and that the nation’s productivity will be dependent on the quality of this sector as much as on the quality of our universities, ignorance and indifference about it abound. But let me warn you: remember the fracas and national shame caused by dodgy English language colleges that mushroomed around the country and ripped off overseas students?   Well, we have learnt too little.  Under the mantra of choice and competition in vocational education, a mass expansion of private vocational training colleges for domestic students, this time backed by government funds, is apace. The results are clearest in Victoria, where the free market philosophy has gone the furthest in treating vocational education like clothes or television sets: it is a good to be offered by a variety of private outlets competing on price. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

VET has too many qualifications and is too complex

14 June 2012

The Australian vocational education and training system is too complex, too expensive and yet too easy to for VET providers to enter, writes Leesa Wheelahan (L H Martin Institute) .  It has too many qualifications that take a lot of money to develop for too few students.  Training packages should be scrapped because the typical vocational qualification has only enough national enrolments to fill a single school classroom.  The study identified over 1400 training package qualifications offered by some 5000 training providers in 2010, with the mid-range number of equivalent full-time students in each qualification being just 34.

There are currently 170 registered higher education providers in Australia, and 4900 ‘active’ VET registered training organisations. In 2010, the biggest 100 VET providers (that is, 2% of all providers) delivered 86% of teaching, while only 61 VET providers had 1000 or more equivalent full-time students.

In 2012-13 the Australian government allocated almost $19.5 million to the higher education regulator – the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority, while it allocated almost $32.8 million to the VET regulator – the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

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Self-Sufficiency or Privatisation?

Inside Higher Ed   8 June 2012

With university funding and the contribution of student fees to that funding ramping up as an issue in Australia, here’s an interesting development in the US.   This is not a lot different to the Melbourne Business School, a private company in which the university is a minority shareholder, to which there is little in the way of public funding.   And, once upon a time, there was  Melbourne University Private, which was designed as a profit making venture, independent of as much government control as possible, in an attempt to manoeuvre around some of the limitations of legislation governing public universities.   It might also be observed that the Melbourne Model has its “entrepreneurial” possibilities, with its Masters level qualifications in the “professional degrees” (medicine, law, architecture etc), which aren’t  subject to the same fee regulation as undergraduate degrees.  With the Go8 universities, in particular, keen to better exploit their high reputational status for financial advantage , this will be an interesting space over the next few years, especially if/when there is a change of government. __________________

The Academic Senate at the University of California at Los Angeles has narrowly approved a proposal to stop accepting any state funds for the university’s M.B.A. program, and to replace those funds with tuition revenue and private support.  The proposal – the subject of intense debate for nearly two years — now goes to the president of the university system, for final approval, which is expected.  This reversed a decision of the university’s Graduate Council, the faculty body for graduate programs, which in March rejected the proposal, potentially dooming it.  But faculty supporters of the plan asked for a review by the full Academic Senate   The votes by the Graduate Council and then by the Academic Senate reflect competing visions for how the university should respond to a series of cuts in state funds (with more reductions looming).

Under the plan, the M.B.A. program would see a net gain in its budget by giving up the small fraction of its budget from the state and replacing those funds with philanthropy and higher tuition rates.  Current tuition rates in the M.B.A. program at UCLA are hardly cut-rate:  California residents paid $45,385 in tuition this academic year.  But there may be plenty of room for UCLA to raise tuition under the new system.  The M.B.A. programs at Stanford University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania will next year be charging $57,300 and $62,034, respectively.

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Award for Singer “madness”

12 June 2012

We suspected that the award of a CA to philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer might be poorly received in some quarters, given that some of his philosophising is, to say the least, rather challenging, dealing with taboo subjects, such as the euthanasia of unwanted children and being permissive of “mutually satisfying” activities of a sexual nature between humans and animals.  These don’t exactly accord with mainstream values.   An organisation called Family Voice Australia says the award “dishonoured” the honours system.  We are not at all familiar with Singer’s corpus but you can’t really suggest that the award constitutes any kind of endorsement for particular propositions.  That’s not  the style of the Honours Committee.  Rather it’s general recognition of his general contribution to the realm of contemporary philosophy.   It’s altogether likely that over the course of a long – and internationally distinguished – career, Singer has had more generally agreeable ideas.  We await with interest Andrew’s thunderBolt, which ought to be a beauty.

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All about MOOC

Simon Marginson explains  that the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format has radical implications for higher education teaching.  It uses videos and interactive exercises designed by a few star professors from high-ranked universities.  MOOC allows the average punter to access Ivy League contents, learning and brand, but without devaluing the main onsite credential. MOOC is not a direct competitor.  It is a new kind of product. It could become a second line of credential, depending on professional certification and employer take-up.  Students will collect different MOOC “badges” to bulk out a varied resume. If there is enough employer take-up, MOOC, with its overwhelming cost advantage, will cannibalise mass education institutions.

But Monash v-c Ed Byrne (Digital campus changes the game) expects that campus-based learning will remain durable into the future except that more and more it will represent a breadth of experience where the latest [information and communication technology] environments and technology offer new interactive experiences.

 I see online learning not as a threat but as an opportunity because we are on an incredibly exciting journey that will make higher education even more effective than it is at present for many people.

The reality, however, is that a vast and increasing number of the world’s students are studying for degrees without ever setting foot on campus.  Open University Australia, the 20-year-old pioneer of online learning, is a prime example, having experienced a doubling in enrolments over the past four years. More than 55,000 students now select from the OUA’s 1400 units and 170 qualifications offered by 20 Australian universities and other tertiary education providers, including TAFE institutes.

Australia’s million-plus university students already have online access to lectures and whole subjects but increasing numbers are switching to learning solely via the web, often with the aid of the universities.

At Swinburne University of Technology, for example, online enrolments have jumped by more than 200% over the past two years.  In November, the university went a step further, negotiating a partnership with web recruiter Seek to establish a separate company to offer all the university’s courses over the internet.

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The spin of Victorian TAFE cuts

7 June 2012

Victorian skills minister….

The revelation that Victorian VET funding cuts involve  somewhat more than the $100 million

…not the Victorian skills minister

publiclyclaimed by the state government  is also revealing of the government’s prosecution of the case for these swingeing cuts.   After publicly recanting the misgivings that brought him to the brink of  resignation, skills minister Peter Hall has at times resembled Comical Alias he argued for weeks that it was “too premature” to talk of job cuts and course closures, while all around him TAFE CEOs were lining up to announce job cuts and course closures.   In Hall’s own electorate, the local GippsTAFE CEO  Peter Whitney described himself as “enraged”, as he announced job cuts of of up to 25, with more to follow.

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Fees:  careful what you wish for?

31 May 2012

The Group of Eight has stepped up its   pitch for fee deregulation with the release of research examining Commonwealth funding for universities over the period 1996-2010 showing government funding increases aren’t sustained over time but Swinburne v-c Linda Kristjanson has sounded the  warning that increased fees often only substitute public funding.

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Victorian TAFE chaos: a lesson in how not to reform vocational education

The Conversation  30 May 2012

UB NTEU Branch

For years, those concerned with vocational education and training have worried about how to lift the public profile of TAFEs. But what has taken many years for some – without much success – the Baillieu government in Victoria has done in a matter of weeks.

The state government’s cuts to TAFE in the May budget has put vocational training front and centre of public attention. All the while demonstrating a surprisingly deep well of public regard for these educational institutions.

There have been literally hundreds of media reports on the funding cuts worth $300 million, in all forms of media – metropolitan, regional and national.

At first, even the Victorian higher education minister Peter Hall was opposed to the cuts and considered resigning in protest, although he is now vigorously defending them as reforms that make TAFE “better”.

So how has TAFE come to this point in Victoria?  And are we likely to see similar “reforms” adopted elsewhere?

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In what was at times an excoriating survey of higher education in Australia, G08 director Mike Gallagher concludes

The Australian Government’s policy and financing settings lack coherence and are putting downward  pressure on quality, and all the new regulatory and performance accountability mechanisms cannot  compensate for over‐scaling and under‐funding.  Indeed they may contribute to loss of diversity and responsiveness and much inefficiency and frustration.

On his way to that conclusion, Gallagher observes that :

  • The Bradley Report was a roadmap to mediocrity.
  • The government’s misrepresentation of the real state of university finances is mischievous – but “not so sinful as knowingly publishing false and misleading information about universities on the MyUni website to the reputational disadvantage of some providers, but that is for another day – perhaps when we are discussing the mykindy or mycrematorium websites.”
  • The structure of incentives is producing a vacuum cleaner effect, where the ‘selecting’universities absorb students who would otherwise have gained admission to mid‐range universities, and they in turn take the better‐prepared students who would otherwise have gone to the ‘recruiting’ universities.
  • The standards movement, with which Australia is belatedly obsessed, is a 20th century movement oriented to the lowest common denominator of public acceptability, while customisation is the stuff of the 21st century where diversity flourishes.
  • The stronger standards and quality regimen is a consequence of the Government’s half‐pregnant market decision to fund universities for any number of domestic undergraduate students they decide to enrol at their own entry standards while denying them the means to secure the resources they need to educate them well.

Click the button to see the whole presentation, complete with slides – it’s nothing if not thought provoking.

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Report of imminent demise of TAFE exaggerated

Campus Review Weekly  14 May 2012

 Despite the recent Victorian government cutbacks, public TAFEs still enjoy a number of advantages over private training providers, including decades of public investment in good and often world class facilities and their dominance of “high end” technical training.  The cutbacks do mean TAFEs are going to have to adjust to the new market but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, least of all for TAFEs: it’s a great big green light by the government to the TAFEs to get out of those areas of provision for which it makes no sense for TAFE to be in now.

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 To judge by some media reaction to the 2012 Federal Budget, socialism is alive and well and running amok in Canberra – and Julia Gillard has broken step with all previous Labor prime ministers by indulging in crass “class warfare”.  Really?

 
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Budget snapshot

10 May 2012

Ahead of the 2012 budget, the theme in  the higher education sector was that no one expected good news . The question was just how bad the news will be?

The short answer is, in terms of higher education: not bad at all.

 

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The campus tsunami

10 May 2012

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced the formation of edX, a transformational new partnership in online education.  Through edX, the two institutions will collaborate to enhance campus-based teaching and learning and build a global community of online learners.  The rapid emergence of online education and resources represents a significant challenge to traditional concepts of higher education and the nature and character of higher education institutions. New York Times columnist David Brooks observes that many people view the coming change with trepidation.   But he suggests that there are reasons to feel optimistic.

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Is the “corporate university” the real threat to quality?

New Matilda   26 April 2012

In much the same way as Australian universities tend to adopt the latest academic fashions from Britain, Europe and the United States, our best centres of learning are now importing the hottest managerial trends: corporate consultants, endless rebranding and unwieldy bureaucracies.  The corporate university has been a long time coming and its effects are now starting to be felt, writes Adam Brereton in New Matilda.

In institutions dedicated to the pursuit of higher learning, scepticism and truth, the most damaging managerial trend is the requirement that academics, along with their administrative staff, uncritically support the university’s corporate goals.  Prescriptive behavioural plans like RMIT’s BCF are being imposed on academics who are expected to, for example, perform more of their own administration, eschew teaching to produce more research, teach on a casual basis or “team teach” huge undergrad classes.

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The book that shifted the paradigm

If you’ve seen that bumper sticker Shift happens, you’ve seen what our culture has made of one of the central ideas in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published 50 years and 1.4 million copies ago.

For the marketers and boosters of personal transformation who casually talk about paradigm shifts, the phrase designates not just a gestalt switch that casts things in a new light, but a world so insubstantial that it can be thoroughly transformed by a single idea. Tomorrow there may be another paradigm shift, and another after that. There is thus no real progress, just a new bubble as good as the old bubble.

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COAG rubber stamps skills reform

16 April 2012

The Commonwealth’s proposed skills reforms package, with an additional $1.75 billion in funding to the states over the next four years, sailed through the Council of Australian Governments meeting on 13 April 2012 without much difficulty, despite state complaints that the Commonwealth government’s new funding deal leaves them “hundreds of millions of dollars” out of pocket.

MORE…

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Failure to invest in education & training drives “deep divisions”

16 April 2012

Casualisation represents a use and throw away mentality that does not help build a productive or a sustainable society in the longer term.

Skill shortages and skilled migration visas are the result of a long-term strategic failure of government and business to invest properly in ongoing training for the burgeoning casualised workforce, says Brian Howe, the chair of an ACTU inquiry into insecure work.   “Any skills shortage should be viewed as a training failure,” according to the former deputy prime minister.  The growing divide between the employed and underemployed is driving deep divisions with the community, the only solution to which is to invest in a “culture of training and development” that does not focus on narrow competencies but broader skills that give a worker autonomy.   Howe says we need a system that is not so much unemployment insurance, but employment insurance, focused on life-long education and training, include support from government for learning accounts and for employers that provide genuine broad-based training.  Jeannie Rea, president of the National Tertiary Education Union, endorsed Howe’s message:

Education and skills development must be at the core of how we shape our economy and workforce.  This requires a lot more than the shallow debate we are currently having around productivity and whether or not we can complete with China or India on flexibility and wages.

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Feeding the knowledge economy

16 April 2012

Throwing open the gates to thousands more university students is an historic moment in higher education, but as always, the devil is in the detail, writes Louise Williams, in a survey of the challenges facing higher education in Australia.

The key concerns arising from “uncapping” are the risks of inadequate funding undermining quality, lower entry requirements threatening academic standards and the potential difficulty in matching aspirational new graduates to jobs in a rapidly changing, globalised employment market.  It would seem that in this new “demand driven” system the shape of universities will be determined, effectively, by what students want but there are other factors in play; universities can only expand places if they have the infrastructure to do so, and this may put at risk national interest areas like science and engineering that need expensive lab space and equipment.

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Issues of university governance

4 April 2012

Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven has told a conference that the anxiety in the sector over the new sector regulatory body is understandable, but somewhat exaggerated.  An example, said Craven, were the concerned whispers he had heard about several universities receiving letters from TEQSA.  “Let me break the awful news to you: you are all going to sooner or later receive a letter from TEQSA, and we will probably get to the point where every single one of us has at least one missive from TEQSA on one subject at any given point in time,” he said.

It really depends on what the letters are about.   Stephen Matchett recently blogged Sic semper tyrannis TEQSA:

The announcement that the agency will keep an eye on the hon docs universities award is not a good start for an organisation suspected of ambitions to less regulate than rule higher education.

He’s got a point.  Honorary conferrals aren’t actually qualifications – they’re honorary titles – so what is TEQSA’s role in regulating them?   Zip, we would have thought.  While Curtin University’s decision to award Rosmah Mansor, the Malaysian prime minister’s wife an hon doctorate has proved a wildly unpopular decision with many of the university’s students, isn’t it really for the university community  to sort it out?

TEQSA also took it upon itself to write to the University of Queensland about the “enrolment irregularity” that cost the then vice-chancellor and his deputy their jobs.  While this has a little more relevance, being related to governance issues, it was arguably gratuitous to the extent that not only had the university investigated and acted on the matter (the apparently attempted hush up was unfortunate), the matter has been referred to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Until 2009, university governance was subject to mandated national protocols, the prescriptive nature of which was resented by universities.  There is now a Voluntary Code of Best Practice for the Governance of Australian Universities, developed by the universities themselves and endorsed by the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment in July 2011.

In a speech last year, ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans observed that getting to the nub of  good governance isn’t necessarily a complicated matter:

The bottom line in all of this seems to me that in governance/management relations nothing is more important than the exercise of plain common sense on both sides.

Governance, leadership and management in universities

Keynote address by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AO QC, Chancellor, The Australian National University, to 6th Annual University Governance and Regulations Forum, Melbourne, 10 August 2011

It was said of Professor Evans that when he departed The University of Melbourne Law School to take up his Senate seat, his students presented him with a farewell gift of two suitcases – one for his clothes and one for his ego.  Might  be apochryphal.

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The digital revolution 1 – the rumble of the tumbrils?

29 March 2012

As we featured in a recent article – The social & learning revolution – all universities are now increasingly “online” institutions, introducing “flexible” provision, utilising a mix of traditional delivery and online resources, such as podcasts, study portals, interactive discussion boards, blogs and YouTube.  But the digital revolution in higher education also threatens the traditional place of universities, which have proved remarkably durable institutions because of their virtual monopoly on credentials and formal qualifications.  In recent months, that monopoly has begun to crumble, writes Kevin Carey in The New Republic.  New organisations are being created to offer new kinds of degrees, in a manner and at a price that could completely disrupt the enduring university business model

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The digital revolution 2 – new media

Universities, research institutes and think tanks generate a vast amount of information.  While a lot of this is technical and discipline specific, of real interest (and rally only comprehensible to practitioners), there’s still a lot that is of general public interest.  And of course there’s the contribution of the “public intellectual”:  the understanding “…that intellectual power is capable of serving public purposes and can rightly assume partisan forms.”  For all the challenges that the internet and the digital revolution present to the university, it also provides a new platform to disseminate ideas and engage public attention.  This week, The Conversation turned one; we have reported before from and on New Matilda.  Most of the universities now have “newsrooms” through which they publish research results and “expert opinion” on the issues of the day – see for example Coldplay: no paradise in Australia for Huawei.  But Flinders University has taken it a step further and publish daily a fullblown media website, covering general news, as well as university specific content.  If nothing else (and we think it is something else), it’s a great user friendly format, better than all the commercial sites.

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Flinders Indaily is a recent significant expansion of an existing relationship Flinders University had with Solstice Media, an independent Adelaide media group. Solstice established Indaily nearly three years ago, with Flinders being a foundation sponsor. At that time Flinders contributed one page of Flinders news to Indaily each fortnight. Last year, Solstice proposed a Flinders Indaily which would take all of the Indaily content, add one page of Flinders news, views and video content each day and distribute to a new database of subscribers to be developed under a Flinders masthead.

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Australia’s first ‘university of specialisation”

29 March 2012

On 1 January 2012, the century old Melbourne College of Divinity (MCD) became Australia’s first “university of specialisation”, following a rigorous 15 month assessment process and subsequent approval by the Victorian Regulation and Qualifications Authority, with the  title ‘MCD University of Divinity’.  .

Founded on 17 December, 1910, MCD University of Divinity is the nation’s sixth oldest self-accrediting Higher Education Institution, and is listed in the Higher Education Support Act 2003 as a Table B institution with Bond University and the University of Notre Dame, and therefore eligible to compete for public research funding, although not  Commonwealth supported places (Table A institutions being Australia’s public universities).

MCD was established by an act of the Victorian Parliament to provide for the higher learning and research needs of religious communities, with the University Act of 1853 specifically prohibiting The University of Melbourne from offering awards in divinity, a prohibition that is maintained for the eight Victorian established universities.

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The social & learning revolution

15 March 2012

All universities are introducing “flexible” provision, utilising a mix of traditional delivery and online resources, such as podcasts, study portals, interactive discussion boards, blogs and YouTube.  This suits the lifestyle of “Gen Y” students in particular, who are entirely comfortable with technology.  Flexible delivery allows many students, who are notionally enrolled in the conventional fulltime on-campus mode of higher education, freedom of employment that was not available to students even half a decade ago.    The so-called ”digitisation” of higher education will only become more prevalent and pervasive, in a relatively short period and in ways that are not yet clearly portended.In this presentation to the recent Universities Australia conference, Shirley Leitch surveyed the extent of the learning revolution and her own university’s experience and learning path, beginning with a You Tube clip.

MORE…

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The academy in the news

15 March 2012

In a comment on an article in The Australian about the Finkelstein report on the media  (Finkelstein report: media’s great divide)  Geoffrey Luck says “we can thank the (report) for one thing — it has flushed out the serious damage academia is doing to journalism and society”.  Luck is a journalist of some sixty years standing and he hearkens back to the days when journalists learned their craft on the job, in smoke filled newsrooms, the incessant clatter of typewriters, as blokes in hats raced to meet deadlines (perhaps not in Luck’s case – he was a radio/TV journalist – but you get the drift).

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Go8 Policy Note: concentrating on research …?

8 March 2012

In a policy note, the Group of 8 (Go8) universities has reiterated its longstanding call for a research funding model focussing on selectivity and concentration of the higher education research effort with the aim of creating research universities of international research excellence.

MORE…

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Ever heard of the Journal of Medical Ethics?

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