Control and click headlines and highlights to link to articles.
Links may not work unless you or your organisation is a paid subscriber to the originating media outlet. Check with your communications people about subscriptions.
The Commonwealth government has been told to simplify its “HECS for skills” loan scheme after a consultant’s report found administrative complexities — including a 200-day application period — had contributed to extremely low take-up rates. The report found that just one in seven Victorian training colleges had obtained approval to offer VET FEE-HELP loans after the state “mainstreamed” the scheme in 2009. VET FEE-HELP, dubbed “HECS for skills” by Julia Gillard, covers upfront tuition fees for diplomas and graduate certificates. Students pay no interest on the loan, and they don’t have to repay it until their income exceeds $47,000 a year. Public policy consultant Brendan Sheehan said relatively low fees were part of the reason that government-subsidised students hadn’t embraced it. Government-supported fees average about $1150 a year compared with $8200 for full fees. However, RMIT University policy analyst Gavin Moodie said the availability of loans would cause fees for government-supported courses to rise. He said the COAG agreement had capped the loans at $5000, significantly more than any current government-supported diploma fees. University of Melbourne tertiary education researcher Leesa Wheelahan said the loan scheme had failed to apply the universal “keep it simple, stupid” principle and discarding a requirement for colleges to have credit transfer agreements with higher education providers before they could offer the loans seemed a sensible simplification:
The link to credit transfer was always ill-advised. Using one policy lever to achieve an unrelated policy objective results in unintended consequences and made it overly complex.
La Trobe University’s proposals to dump gender, sexuality and diversity studies looks set benefit The University of Melbourne, which proposes to restore gender studies as a major to its Bachelor of Arts because of the increasing “importance” of the subject in the community and in research. Melbourne’s plan will add fuel to growing opposition against La Trobe’s blueprint for sweeping cuts to subjects and staff in humanities and social sciences. Faculty heavyweight and politics professor Dennis Altman has spoken out against the cuts in an email to colleagues.
Closing the program weakens the faculty’s strength in an area which La Trobe is well-positioned to develop.
La Trobe is the only university in Victoria offering gender studies as a major. It has just one academic and more than 50 students enrolled. The subject is also taught in stand-alone degrees such as international development and legal studies. Faculty dean Tim Murray said he hadn’t been aware of Melbourne’s plans and signalled there was room for a possible rethink as he consulted with staff on the restructure proposals:
What Melbourne is doing is obviously going to be part of our thinking.
But he stressed academics in other subjects facing the axe were all making robust cases for continuing. The faculty is seeking cuts of $4.3 million to meet an imposed target of returning a surplus of 3% of revenue.
The University of Ballarat and Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE (BRIT) are the latest Victorian TAFEs to announce course closures in the wake of massive government funding cuts, estimated at up to $300 million a year across the sector.
Ballarat, which estimated the cuts would cost it $20 million or 40% of its TAFE funding, will be shedding courses in areas like hospitality, business, arts and equine studies. Under a restructure announced on 26 June much of the university’s vocational training will be concentrated in a new Industry Skills Centre that will cultivate close ties to industry, which will provide training in engineering, manufacturing, automotive, electro-technology, building and construction, plumbing, agriculture, wool, conservation and land management, horticulture, food processing, meat, baking, furniture, hair and beauty and hospitality. The university has opened a voluntary redundancy program but hasn’t put a figure on job losses.
Almost a quarter of BRIT’s courses will also be scrapped after the cuts reduced its income by a similar proportion or $9 million. Among the 39 courses slated for closure are agriculture, media, shearing and community services, as well as the widely predicted loss of hospitality, business, fitness and retail courses. BRIT will shed 100 jobs, with 25 staff going in July and another 75 by December.
There is speculation that the government will need to provide special assistance to BRIT to fund redundancies, given its operating loss of $2.5 million in 2012.
Chief executive Maria Simpson said the “very difficult decisions” had been necessitated the budget cuts but in a remarkable statement, a government spokesman “distanced’ the government from the cuts, declaring that staffing levels are “independent of government.”
Of the cuts, the Bendigo Advertiser observed:
Perhaps the most disappointing thing … was the state government’s refusal to accept any blame for this dark day. You cannot strip $9 million from a facility and then say you have nothing to do with staffing levels. [Government] budget cuts led to this day and what we as a community would prefer to hear is how [the government] is going to help the 100 people we feel for today and provide for those students who no longer have a career path once available to them.
ANU protest rally
The Australian National University has confirmed it will slash the number of teaching staff at its School of Music. Twenty-four teaching positions will be reduced to 13, and two administrative staff will also lose their jobs. The cuts are part of a “brutal restructure” of the school to deal with its worsening debt, which is predicted to reach $2.9 million this year. ANU vice chancellor Ian Young told a media conference
This shortfall is more, for example, than the whole annual budget of the School of Philosophy, which ranks sixth in the world Deficits of this level are unsustainable and create an unacceptable burden for the rest of the university community.
Staff have unanimously condemned the changes. In the wake of the announcement, Associate Professor Alice Giles said “if this goes ahead the School of Music will be destroyed”. She said the university’s plan was virtually unchanged despite hundreds of submissions made to the university during its consultation period.
Leading members of Canberra’s music community say top level teachers will now leave town, meaning they will not be available for hire by students. With few other job opportunities for top-level performers, the director of the Canberra International Music Festival, Chris Latham, predicts a mass exodus.
James Cook University is to refocus its creative arts school on digital arts, while dropping theatre and performance majors. In a discussion paper, head of school Peter Murphy, says the changes are being driven by market demand, with under-performing, under-enrolled subjects to give way to enhancing digital areas. The changes are also designed to enhance the school’s financial viability through attracting more undergraduate and postgraduate students. Murphy says the shift to digital had been in train for at least five years and any changes are an extension of that. “It’s where the focus and the future is now,” he said.
Next semester Australian Catholic University will launch its new “Core Curriculum”, which it says lies at the heart of its vision about
… teaching students to think critically and ethically, and be guided by social justice principles. It’s about passing on the skills to bring about change in communities and in society.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Pauline Nugent says the Core units will emphasise critical judgment, clear expression, ethical decision-making and concern for others, as individuals and as a community.
Above all, they will provide a common learning experience for students at ACU. Undergraduate students will together address the same topics and tackle the same problems – bringing their own views and experience to complex ideas and contemporary social issues.
A key aspect of the program is giving students the opportunity to learn beyond the walls of the university classroom. Students have the chance to apply to spend three weeks in Florence, Italy, over the European summer in June and July – with additional destination options added every year. The international component is open to all ACU students and generous scholarships will be available for up to 12 candidates to cover the full cost of tuition, excursions, accommodation, meal and insurance expenses to the value of $5,000.
Students from poorer backgrounds are entering Australian universities in numbers not seen before in this country. But are universities ready, asks Marcia Devlin (Open Universities Australia)?
Most working-class students come from families with little or no experience of university study. These students, therefore, face challenges that their middle-class counterparts do not. Apart from financial constraints, these challenges relate to a mismatch between the social and cultural capital of poor students and that of universities.
Many inside universities think of this mismatch as a deficit in students and wrongly assume that remedial classes will address the situation. Others see the mismatch as an institutional deficit and simplistically think that universities just need to clarify their expectations of students and the matter will be resolved. She suggests five key areas of relevance:
- Inclusive curriculum design that caters to diversity, scaffolds integrated opportunities for students to learn tertiary literacies alongside discipline content, and protects academic standards.
- Promoting engagement with, and support from institutions need to ensure there are collaborative learning and organised peer-to-peer contact opportunities both inside and outside the curriculum as well as opportunities for the families and communities of LSES students to engage with the institution. Resourcing and promoting student-to-student mentoring programs is an important contribution to assisting LSES and other students engage with fellow students.
- Encouraging “help-seeking” behaviour by students use available support services. Leaders have an important role to play in encouraging staff to use early feedback and referral to encourage students to seek, for example, academic, language and learning skill help.
- Minimising financial challenges by providing and promoting a suite of financial services and support for students that include short- and long-term loans, scholarships and advice on accessing government funding.
- Supporting teachers institutions should take into account the challenges of inclusive teaching and of providing detailed help, feedback, referral and support to LSES and other students and ensure teachers are appropriately resourced and supported.
Australian researchers will continue to undertake vital research-in areas such as health, manufacturing and food security-in Australia under a new program to manage researcher access to the Australian Synchrotron. The program will be managed by Monash University with the support of Commonwealth Government investment of $30 million, with Australian universities investing around $25 million. The $30 million Government investment is being provided by the Australian Research Council ($25 million) and National Health and Medical Research Council ($5 million). The NHMRC previously funded the development of a medical beamline on the Synchrotron. This additional funding will help ensure the beamline is fully utilised.
Under the Synchrotron Initiative, Monash University will implement a peer‑reviewed, merit-based program to ensure Australian and overseas universities and medical research institutions benefit from synchrotron access over the next four years.
Announcing the funding, Science and Research Minister Senator Chris Evans said the unique properties of synchrotron light provide experimental research results that are more accurate and clear than those obtained using traditional laboratory equipment.
Private higher education has grown so rapidly that it now represents 50% of providers and 10 per cent of students, according to analysis by Peter Ryan published in the new ACPET Journal of Higher Edcucation. When TAFEs and theology colleges are included, the broad non-university sector accounted for more than $290 million of the $1 billion in FEE-HELP loan funding last year – up from $30 million (9%) in 2005.
But Ryan predicted that the gift of uncapped places to public universities, and the burden of regulation and reporting, would lead to more mergers and less competition in private higher education. Gavin Moodie, higher education policy analyst at RMIT University, acknowledged the loan-driven growth of the sector but said most private providers remained small with a median student body of 233 equivalent full-time students in 2010. Moodie agrees with Ryan that the deregulation of subsidised places at public universities would slow the growth of private higher education “in mass market programs, such as business and hospitality” but not in fields such as multi-media, creative arts and alternative health.
The Australian Council for Private Education and Training‘s Journal for Private Higher Education is a bi-annual peer-reviewed journal for scholarly articles on the theory and practice of higher education in the context of the private sector.