The Scan | #142 | 1 November 2013

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The state of Australian education

A report  by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council shows mixed progress on education.COAG

Participation in preschool is high and school outcomes in the early years are improving. Nationally, average scores improved in Years 3 and 5 in reading and in Year 5 in numeracy, but there were no improvements in Years 7 and 9.  Australia is also performing behind top countries in these key areas. Year 12 attainment has increased, particularly for Indigenous students. More than a quarter of young people are not fully engaged in work or study after leaving school and this has worsened over five years……[ READ MORE ]…

UNSW seeks to refocus refugee debate

Australia’s first centre specialising in international refugee law has been launched

UNSW Logo2The centre’s founding director Professor Janice McAdam said one of its  priorities will be to provide “thought leadership to re-orient the approach to asylum law and policy in this country”.  She said we need  to “move beyond the sound bites and slogans that dumb down public policy, and will open up a space for questions, debate, and informed opinion-making”…..[ READ MORE ]…

ANU considers its future

A smaller institution, more focussed on post graduate and research training

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, Ian Young, has confirmed that the university is contemplating changes after a ANUrecent speech by Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, which argued that the university should cut undergraduate numbers to ”about 8000” (from around 12,000).  Schmidt proposed a reduction in tenured jobs and the introduction of interviews for potential students.  He also called for the introduction of classes offering students ”life skills”….[ READ MORE ]

Redundancies at Brisbane TAFE

50 staff set to lose their jobs at Brisbane North Institute of TAFE.

Brisbane North LogoQueensland Teacher’s Union president Kevin Bates said it was the latest hit to the sector still reeling from hundreds of job losses in the past 18 months.  Figures released in July showed 349 redundancies had been accepted by TAFE staff around the state between March 2012 and June 30 this year. But Kaylene Harth, director TAFE reform for Brisbane Metropolitan Region, says its just normal business practice for TAFEs to review their operations, including  staffing levels in line with student demand.….[ READ MORE ] 

Court rules Swinburne breached work laws

Failure to consult on campuses closures draws apology and financial contributions to community educationnteu-logo

The Federal Court of Australia has found that Swinburne University of Technology was guilty of four breaches of the Fair Work Act in that it failed to consult with staff and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) over its decision last July to shut its Lilydale campus and relocate the design faculty from the Prahran campus in the wake of the Victorian Coalition Government’s $290 million cuts to TAFE..….[ READ MORE ]


This week’s headlines

Government loosens student visa restrictions

30 October 2013    |    The Abbott government has moved to loosen visa restrictions to attract international students….[ READ MORE ]…

Why privatising HECS might not make much sense

29 October 2013    |   Privatising HECS is kind of bananas, writes economist Leith van Onselen. …[ READ MORE ]…

Pyne rules in privatising HECS debt

29 October 2013     |   Education Minister Christopher Pyne says he is keeping an open mind about the idea of selling off the debt the government is owed under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme.  .[ READ MORE ]….

Probe into Vic TAFE contracts

28 October 2013    |     The Ombudsman is to investigate a contentious decision by Victoria’s top education bureaucrat to pay a former colleague’s company $1 million to oversee TAFE reforms without putting the contract to a competitive tender.…..[ READ MORE ]….

TEQSA call for submissions on red tape

Red tape 227 October 2013     |    The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) has issued a call for submissions on future directions for TEQSA’s regulatory processes and its regulatory risk framework.…[ READ MORE]…

Victoria to provide limited transport concessions flags1

26 October 2013    |    Victorian premier Denis Napthine has announced Victoria’s latest international education strategy, at a cost of $17.5 million over the four years, including a trial of limited public transport concessions.…[ READ MORE]….



Fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed1 November 2013    |    For his contribution to making sense of genomics and related technologies, the head of Bioinformatics at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Emeritus Professor Terry Speed has been awarded the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.  A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads.  he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution…..[ READ MORE ]….

Beating child gastro

1 November 2013    |    The 2013 Florey Medal for significant achievements in biomedical science has been awarded to  Professor Ruth Ruth BishopBishop for her work on understanding the rotavirus and the creation of a vaccine. This vaccine has saved countless children and around the world from the debilitating and possibly deadly effects of gastronenteritis at an early age.  Ruth and her team are now working to develop a vaccine that can be administered to babies to help further protect children in developing countries…..[ READ MORE]….

NMIT’s millionth student

Millionth Student Photos 28thOct 002After 101 years of operation NMIT (Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE) is celebrating its one millionth enrolment: Gina Fasanella who has enrolled in NMIT’s Diploma of Business at the Preston campus.  After completing the short course “How to Start a Successful Business” at NMIT, Gina decided to enrol at NMIT full-time.….[ READ MORE]….


Comment & analysis

Is securitisation an ugly word?


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.


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.



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.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

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.




Life & stuff

The Juxtaposition

2013 Tafeclips Video Competition

Tafeclips, organised TAFE New England, by  is a competition is open to all TAFE NSW and TVET students.  This year’s winning entry was The Juxtaposition by Riley Cope , who is doing a Certificate IV in Live Production at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE.  The storyline:

We follow a man on his way down the street. We see how one simple decision he makes can have an opposite effect on his future.


Learning @work

11-13 November 2013 | Australian Technology Park, Sydney



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