University news

50 Future Fellowships announced

17 December 2015

Future Fellowships

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The Australian Research Council has announced grants of $38.6 million to support 50 Future Fellows at 17 universities.  The Future Fellowship scheme provides four-year fellowships to outstanding Australian mid-career researchers. The aim of Future Fellowships is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers in Australia rather than head off overseas to advance their careers.  Details of the approved projects are HERE.

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Future Fellowships 2015 funding outcomes—Snapshot by State and Organisation
Administering Organisation Total number of projects Total ARC funding
Australian Capital Territory 5 $3,751,315
The Australian National University 5 $3,751,315
New South Wales 13 $10,385,527
Macquarie University 5 $3,683,068
The University of New South Wales 1 $903,625
The University of Newcastle 1 $690,352
The University of Sydney 3 $2,477,935
University of Wollongong 3 $2,630,547
Queensland 9 $7,129,434
Griffith University 3 $2,144,131
Queensland University of Technology 1 $812,460
The University of Queensland 5 $4,172,843
South Australia 2 $1,724,012
The Flinders University of South Australia 1 $919,052
The University of Adelaide 1 $804,960
Tasmania 1 $660,751
University of Tasmania 1 $660,751
Victoria 18 $13,390,272
La Trobe University 2 $1,518,207
Monash University 8 $6,065,659
Swinburne University of Technology 2 $1,364,704
The University of Melbourne 6 $4,441,702
Western Australia 2 $1,606,689
The University of Western Australia 2 $1,606,689
Total 50 $38,648,000

 

 

The Scan #176 16 December 2015

News

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Rebalancing Victorian VET

skills (1)

16 December 2015     |     The Victorian government has released the Final Report of The VET Funding Review (Mackenzie Report).  It’s a weighty document, both literally and figuratively, running to 173 pages and 109 recommendations. Skills minister Steve Herbert says the government accepts the “general thrust” of the report and its recommendations.  It will take the next year to work through design and implementation issues and to consult with stakeholders ahead of the introduction of a new funding model in 2017.  Certain matters, however, are given, such as restoring the public provider network (TAFE) as the bulwark of quality in the VET system, imposing stricter regulatory and contract compliance on providers and formally abandoning the “open market” approach of its previous government….[ READ MORE ]…..

VET -“more work needed”

14 December 2015    |      Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, state premiers and chief ministers have agreed to more closely review reforms and Race to the bottomregulation, which had begun under the original COAG National Partnership Agreement on skills – initially created in April 2012 under Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  The COAG meeting in Sydney on 11 December 2015 agreed that “further work will be undertaken on options to reform vocational education and training, for initial consideration at COAG’s first meeting in 2016, recognising that skills ministers will continue to work together to address key VET system challenges.”  Training ministers for NSW and Victoria also signalled their dissatisfaction with current vocational education policy, with NSW minister John Barilaro describing current VET FEE-HELP arangements as “a race to the bottom” ….[ READ MORE ]……

Job axe to fall at UWA

UWA

14 December 2015    |    The University of Western Australia (UWA) will lay off 300 staff as part of sweeping cuts aimed at reducing costs. The university will slash 100 academic positions and 200 professional positions early next year.  Fifty new academic positions will be created to enhance the university’s “capability and impact in areas of comparative advantage”.  UWA vice-chancellor Professor Paul Johnson said in a statement that 2015 had been a challenging year for the Australian higher education sector.  National Tertiary Education Union WA secretary Gabe Gooding said the union is outraged and that there is no justification for sacking 300 staff when the university made a $90 million operational surplus in 2014….[ READ MORE ] ….

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VET FEE-HELP skewering VET

11 December 2015      |       Explosive growth in the VET FEE-HELP scheme has masked massive direct public disinvestment in vocational education and training. While a report by NCVER shows a notional growth of 1.7% in 2014 over 2013 (plus $141.0 million, from $8512.4 million to $8653.4 million), it’s all in VET-FEE Help payments: actual direct expenditure by governments, including the Commonwealth declined markedly VET FEE-HELP. ….[ READ MORE ]…..

Innovating an “ideas boom”

Innovation

7 December 2015      |       Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled his much-anticipated Innovation Statement, saying he wanted to drive an “ideas boom”. The statement allocates almost $1.1 billion over the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation.  A key focus of the plan revolves around strengthening ties between the business community, universities and scientific institutions.
A $200 million innovation fund will co-invest in businesses that develop technology from the CSIRO and Australian universities. CSIRO will also get an extra $20 million to help commercialise research outcomes….[ READ MORE ]…..

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Milestones

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Neil Coulson named Victorian Skills Commissioner

16 December 2015

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Mr Coulson has extensive experience working in industry and was the CEO of the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) from 2000 to 2007.  He has also held a number of other senior roles in industry including Chief of Australian Manufacturer Jacyo Corporation from 2007 to 2012 and was a member of the Victorian Learning and Employment Skills Commission between 2001 and 2004.

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Neil Coulson

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Comment & analysis

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16 December 2015

Time to end the exploitation of vulnerable people

The case for REAL reform

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It’s hard to argue with the proposition that Australia’s vocational education sector is a mess.  Mary Leahy (University of Melbourne) writes that tightening regulation and tweaking some of the settings will contain the damage, but these measures alone will not address deeper problems in the sector.   Real, sustained improvement requires rethinking the funding and regulatory models but also the purpose and idea of vocational education.

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VET Reform

There is clear evidence of rorting and rent-seeking in the vocational education and training (VET) sector.

The behaviour of some training providers, agents and brokers is nothing short of despicable. Thousands of students are being signed up to courses that they have little or no chance of completing.

The business model is fairly simple:

    • Register as a training provider and ensure your students have access to VET FEE HELP income-contingent loans.
    • Sign up as many students as possible for single or double diplomas.
    • The student takes on a VET FEE HELP loan to defer payment of course fees.
    • The training provider receives the VET FEE HELP payment from the government.
    • As long as the student is enrolled beyond the census date, the training provider is paid.
    • Even if the course is never started, the provider will receive funds from the government and the student is liable for the debt.

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One size does not fit all

The case for a new university type

Republished 16 December 2015

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Many of our universities are teaching focused rather than research focused.  Why is this a bad thing?  The Lisbon Council, which rated the Australian system highly, considered that while world-class research is an important aspect that allows some universities to turn out first-class students, for the system as a whole the educational mission is paramount.

The national protocols that govern our system ought to reflect the reality, that we have a continuum of university institutional types from research-intensive to teaching-intensive.It is past time we addressed the fiction that all universities are research-intensive and that all academics need to be research-active to be good teachers.

Across Australia there are multi-campus universities that cannot maintain the research activity on all campuses that is supposed to sustain the nexus. Many universities have recognised that good teaching is informed by scholarship by creating teaching-only positions that emphasise scholarship, being currency of knowledge and understanding, over the ideal of research as pure, original discovery.

 

 

UNIVERSITY STOCK

 

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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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Chakra1Chakra

Chakara at 179 Acland St, St Kilda, and 387 Hampton St, Hampton has an extensive range of quality and unusual gift items. You can order online through Chakra’s Facebook page.

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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.

Unis

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Life & stuff

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Christmas 2015

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The VET Store

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The VET Store is a  service by the VET Development Centre which provides access to a range of information to support VET practitioners in the work they do.

VET Development Centre
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Job axe to fall at UWA

ABC NEWS |     11 December 2015

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The University of Western Australia (UWA) will lay off 300 staff as part of sweeping cuts aimed at reducing costs. The university will slash 100 academic positions and 200 professional positions early next year.  Fifty new academic positions will be created to enhance the university’s “capability and impact in areas of comparative advantage”.

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UWA

 UWA Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson said in a statement that 2015 had been a challenging year for the Australian higher education sector:

UWA, like many universities, has a budget challenge.

As highlighted during the recent fee deregulation debate, there remains a long-standing under-funding of Australian universities amid a climate of greater competition at home and abroad.

We need to confront these financial challenges head on, which means changing how the university operates.”

University staff were told of the planned redundancies on 11 December 2015.

University ‘in good financial shape’: union

National Tertiary Education Union WA secretary Gabe Gooding said the union is “outraged” and that there is no justification for sacking 300 staff when the university made a $90 million operational surplus in 2014.

This is yet another poor decision of an ideologically-driven vice-chancellor who is becoming increasingly known for making bad decisions.

In the four years of his tenure he has effectively trashed the reputation of what was one of the country’s most formidable institutions.

The vice-chancellor told staff that he planned to significantly increase the intake of international students, but with fewer staff to teach them, this can only be interpreted as cynical exercise in treating international students as cash cows.

The worst thing of course is a couple of weeks to Christmas, and of the thousands of UWA staff none of them are going to know whether they are in that 300 or not.

The university has not finalised which roles would be made redundant, the statement said.

It expects the redundancy process to be completed by the end of next year.

The university recorded a $90 million net result in 2014, down from $125 million in 2013.

 

See:
UWA’s planned sacking of 300 staff unjustified and cynical

 

The Scan #175 11 December 2015

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News

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VET FEE-HELP skewering system

 

Calculator11 December 2015      |       Explosive growth in the VET FEE-HELP scheme has masked massive direct public disinvestment in vocational education and training. While a report by NCVER shows a notional growth of 1.7% in 2014 over 2013 (plus $141.0 million, from $8512.4 million to $8653.4 million), it’s all in VET-FEE Help payments: actual direct expenditure by governments, including the Commonwealth declined markedly VET FEE-HELP.  VET funding through state and territory governments fell almost $320m, while fee-for-service ¬revenue — largely contributed by businesses — fell more than $130m. Federal government funding through channels other than VET FEE-HELP fell almost $500m.  Financial information 2014 shows that VET FEE-HELP is supplanting traditional forms of VET financing, as state governments and businesses withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars from the sector. Government spending fell $416m last year, even though Canberra shovelled an extra $1.06 billion into VET FEE-HELP….[ READ MORE ]…..

Innovating an “ideas boom”

Innovation

7 December 2015      |       Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled his much-anticipated Innovation Statement, saying he wanted to drive an “ideas boom”. The statement allocates almost $1.1 billion over the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation.

A key focus of the plan revolves around strengthening ties between the business community, universities and scientific institutions.
A $200 million innovation fund will co-invest in businesses that develop technology from the CSIRO and Australian universities. CSIRO will also get an extra $20 million to help commercialise research outcomes.
The mechanisms for funding university research are being simplified, with more focus on industry collaboration and less on publishing articles in academic journals. The six block grant schemes will be collapsed into two, with equal rating for research excellence and income from industry. The government will add $127 million in funding for university research over the next four years.
The previously endangered National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme will receive $1.5 billion over 10 years for projects such as ocean monitoring, advanced manufacturing and medical research.
There will also be $800 million over the decade for two major scientific projects: the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne (which uses light beams a million times brighter than the sun to generate discoveries) and the Square Kilometre Array (the largest radio telescope ever constructed).
The government will spend $84 million “inspiring” Australians in digital literacy and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This includes new money to upgrade teachers’ digital skills, educational apps and $13 million to boost the participation of girls and women in STEM….[ READ MORE ]…..

Research quality soars

5 December 2015     |     The inaugural State of Australian University Research 2015–16: Volume 1 ERA research2National Report comprehensively details the quality of Australian university research benchmarked against world standards.  It identifies the excellence in research across a broad range of universities and the outstanding performances in areas of specialisation. Overall the quality of Australian university research continues to improve. The report confirms Australia’s university research performance is amongst the best in the world. In 2015, 89% of the assessed research areas in Australian universities is rated as world class, up from 68% in 2010….[ READ MORE ]…..

Phoenix crashes…and burns

Phoenix

5 Decemebr 2015    |      Melbourne’s Phoenix Institute has shut down its “real world division” (that is, its face-to-face, classroom rather than online delivery) as a result of a federal government crackdown which has seen VET FEE-HELP funding to the entire sector frozen and legal action initiated by the ACCC. Some 260 transpersonal counselling and art therapy students are affected by the closure.  Phoenix is one of a large number of colleges to have grown exponentially through its sale of online diplomas around Australia, using government money under the VET FEE-HELP scheme.It started the year claiming $200,000 per month from government to pay for courses, but by September, it was applying for a variation, claiming an annual payment of $300 million – or $25 million per month – a 125-fold increase….[ READ MORE ]….

Crackdown looming 

Crackdown1

4 December 2015    |    New rules to better protect students in the vocational education and training sector will come into effect from 1 January 2016 with the passage of the Higher Education Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015 on 3 December. The changes a requirement providers assess the student’s capacity to undertake the course for which they are enrolling.  Ahead of the introduction of a new funding model in 2017, the total loan limit for existing VET FEE-HELP providers will be frozen at  2015 levels. There will also be tougher entry requirements for registered training organisations seeking to become a VET FEE-HELP provider….. [ READ MORE ]…..

Vocation collapses entirely

Vocation snip30 Novemebr 2015    |    Less than a week after going into voluntary administration education and training services company Vocation has been closed down, leaving 150 of its 180 employees without a job and more than 10,000 students in limbo.  In a statement on Monday 30 November 2015, administrators Ferrier Hodgson advised that as a result of further customer contract terminations, the lack of available liquidity to fund operations and the lack of ongoing support from key stakeholders, the voluntary administrators of Vocation Ltd have had no alternative but to cease the majority of the company’s operations effective from 30 November 2015...[ READ MORE ]….

ACCC hits up Phoenix for $106 m

26 November 2015    |  The Australian Competition and Consumer

Carpetbagger
Loot in the bag…?

Commission (ACCC) has accused leading VET provider Phoenix Institute of false, misleading and unconscionable conduct and is seeking recovery of $106 million in Commonwealth funding through VET-FEE HELP.   The ACCC claims Phoenix tricked disadvantaged people into signing up for multiple courses and incurring large debts to the Commonwealth.  The alleged victims included those with intellectual disabilities, and people on Aboriginal communities. Sales people authorised by Phoenix signed them up to multiple online diploma courses which cost $18,000 each, even though some did not have access to the internet or computer skills.  The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)  has also announced that it proposes cancelling Phoenix Institute’s registration as a training organisation, meaning it will then be ineligible for further government funding ….[ READ MORE ]….

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UA News

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Go8 Nov

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NCVER Insight November 2015

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Milestones

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Murdoch names new vice-chancellor

3 December 2015

……………………………………………………………………………………………………… Internationally experienced university leader and academic, Professor Eeva Leinonen has been selected as Murdoch University’s next vice-chancellor, which has been shaken for more than a year by power struggles and a probe by the West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission..

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Eeva

Professor Leinonen is currently a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Wollongong, a role she has held since 2012. Prior to this she was Vice Principal (Education) at King’s College London.

She has an academic background in linguistics and psychology and has extensive experience in higher education in the United Kingdom, Europe and internationally, including 19 years at the University of Hertfordshire, where she served as Deputy Vice Chancellor and Dean of Health and Human Sciences.

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Comment & analysis

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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.

…what we have seen in recent times is the proliferation of “sharks” in the VET ocean – alpha predators, who are big mean and nasty.  Governments are casting a net – not before time, either – to at least rein them in.  But the VET “sprats” – smaller reputable providers – are emerging as “collateral damage”, caught in the net intended to capture the sharks and subject to an ever increasing burden of regulation which, in context, is unnecessary.  By and large, the sprats aren’t the problem authorities are trying to net.

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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%.

These are sudden and dramatic shifts, which have resulted in the apparent destabilisation of a number of the public TAFE institutes.  In 2011, the combined surpluses of the 14 standalone TAFEs in Victoria, which fund really important things like infrastructure and facilities, halved, from$192m to $98m.  Analysis by sector specialist Gavin Moodie reveals that if you discount one-off capital items, the underlying operating results are pretty bleak, with only 4 of the 14 standalone TAFEs operating in the black.

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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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Print

Of course the last week was, and the week coming, will be dominated by discussion about the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015.

As you would all be aware, the Government introduced the changes with no forewarning or consultation.

On hearing of the changes, I flew to Canberra to meet with Ministers, the Opposition and Senators in an attempt to rectify the problems, particularly the Freezing of VFH accounts at 2015 levels. Unfortunately, the Bill was passed that day, less than 24 hours after it was introduced.

Many members have expressed their concerns and it is important that you continue to do so. What disappointed me was that I, along with other representatives from the sector are appointed to a VFH Reform Working Group. To be on this group we were required to sign detailed confidentiality agreements. The Group only met a week ago where we discussed a range of reforms. Unfortunately there was not a word of the changes the government was about to introduce. Not sure I will attend this group again.

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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.

 Universities’ operations make significant contributions to Australia’s economic output

Australia’s university sector directly employs over 120,000 staff and supports the delivery of education to over one million students. The operations of the university sector generate significant contributions to Australia’s economic output and national income.

    • The sector contributed around $25 billion to the Australian economy both directly and indirectly in 2013, accounting for over 1.5% of Australia’s GDP and 160,000 fulltime equivalent (FTE) jobs.
    • In 2014–15, education related exports accounted for 5.7% of Australia’s total exports, representing the largest service export and the third largest export category overall. Higher education is the single biggest contributor to this, representing around two-thirds of the total value.

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How teaching funds research in Australian universities

28 November 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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UnisNo-one knows exactly how universities spend their money. But questions are asked about how universities have financed huge growth in the amount of research produced over the past 15 years – and a new report by the Grattan Institute could have the answer.

It finds that, in 2012, universities spent at least $2 billion on research that was meant for teaching. This means that around one dollar in every five was spent on research rather than tuition.

Universities are not doing anything improper in spending money this way.

The current legislation pays universities on student numbers, but is silent on how exactly the money should be used.

But the absence of specific teaching funding makes it hard to ensure that any extra money intended to benefit students is actually spent on students.

So why are universities so focused on funding research? And is there a need to be more transparent about how universities spend their money?

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Life & stuff

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A  candle in memory of David

8 December 2015

Candle
On 9 December 2006,17 year old David Iredale and three mates went for a hike in the Blue Mountains as part of their Duke Of Edinburgh Award program.  They planned it pretty carefully and they had detailed maps and stuff. But it all went terribly wrong: the maps indicated a fresh water source along the route, which wasn’t there. It was hot -mid-30s centrigrade- and they’d run out of water. Somehow, David became separated from his mates – my recollection is that as the strongest of the hiking party, he struck out ahead of the others to seek assistance. He became severely dehydrated and rang emergency services on his mobile phone. It was very poor reception but he tried to get across to the operators the dire circumstances of his plight. He made a number of calls, to no avail. Various operators kept asking for his street address. He kept telling them he was on a big rock near a walking trail in the Blue Mountains. But they kept demanding his street address. He asked for a helicopter to be sent.  He was told off for being abusive. In the event, nobody did anything. David’s body was recovered some days later. Each year at this time, I reflect on this terrible episode and remind myself to be not indifferent to the plight of others.  I tell my kids, if you get into any sort of real trouble, you ring me and/or your mother FIRST; we might argue later, but we’ll address the trouble first.

And I light a candle in memory of David.

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One Hundred Stories

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Monash University’s commemoration of the Great War.

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Wall of Commemoration
The One Hundred Stories are a silent presentation. They remember not just the men and women who lost their lives, but also those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane, all those irreparably damaged by war. The Great War shaped the world as well as the nation. Its memory belongs to us all.

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The VET Store is a  service by the VET Development Centre which provides access to a range of information to support VET practitioners in the work they do.

VET Development Centre
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Go8 Newsletter November 2015

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Taking over universities

UNSW News     |      18 December 2013

New higher education minister Kim Carr is considering a rethink on the opening up of university places. AAP/Julian Smith
Universities could soon become a Commonwealth responsibility – so why would the states give up the power? AAP/Julian Smith

 

Why the states would give up control

State and federal relations are almost always a bumpy ride – you only have to look at the recent stoush over schools funding to see that. So when relations go well and we see a glimpse of that perfect picture of co-operative federalism, attention needs to be paid.

The Commonwealth government has recently announced its intention to assume responsibility for New South Wales universities – a takeover that looks to be rolled out nationally over time. NSW is reported to be “receptive to the idea”, which probably indicates the state government’s indifference and relief in equal measure.

The Australian Constitution does not expressly allocate either level of government the power to make laws for education. However, at the time the Constitution entered into force in 1901, schools and universities would certainly have been viewed as an area of state responsibility. This accounts for the fact that universities are established as statutory corporations under individual state legislation providing for their governance.

But since the 1970s, the Commonwealth has been the primary funder of the nation’s universities through its power to make conditional grants to the states. It has used this power to amass and wield enormous policy control in the higher education sector.

The states have not, as a group, been entirely uninterested in their universities. Some have been keen to contribute to underpinning policy settings or support for infrastructure. NSW, however, has not really been one of them.

Nearly a decade ago, Premier Bob Carr refused to match Commonwealth funding to support a new medical school at the University of Western Sydney, claiming that funding universities was a Commonwealth responsibility.

Around the same time, Carr proposed a Commonwealth takeover not just of health but also higher education in exchange for the states being left to get on with the job of running the school system. That proposal went nowhere but the states’ comfortable acceptance of the Commonwealth’s dominance of higher education was still apparent in its submission to the 2008 Review of Australian Higher Education chaired by Professor Denise Bradley.

This traditional stance, plus the fact that ten of the nation’s 37 public universities are creatures of NSW legislation, probably explains why the Commonwealth has opened discussions with that state. As press reports made clear, NSW also sees a real benefit by shifting the problem of billions of dollars of unfunded obligations under university superannuation schemes to the Commonwealth.

With that burden gone, the state might not even feel it needs anything further from the Commonwealth. When Carr proposed a cleaner division of core responsibilities in 2004, he was essentially saying that the Commonwealth should vacate an area of real state interest in return for a handover of some other power to Canberra. There is so far no sign of that in respect of the proposed Commonwealth takeover of universities.

So how would the Commonwealth and the states make this change happen? The answer is not by way of a public referendum to amend the Constitution or anything nearly so dramatic. The Commonwealth already has a range of legislative powers at its disposal which it uses to regulate the sector.

Chief amongst these is the power to make laws for “constitutional corporations” under section 51 of the Constitution. For instance, the extensive capacity of that power, currently supports the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act (2011)– the legislation which underpins the national regulatory body for higher education.

But the far-reaching scope of section 51 and existing powers is probably inadequate to realise a complete handover of responsibility from states to the Commonwealth.

The best method will be for the states to use a constitutional mechanism whereby they “refer” a matter to the Commonwealth – in effect, adding this to the powers of the national parliament. In this instance, the State Parliaments could simply refer universities as a subject for Commonwealth law-making. This would give the Commonwealth the free hand in the sector that it presumably desires.

If the states felt more cautious, the referral might be a power to re-enact the existing state legislation that governs their various universities. This may be accompanied by provision in the underlying intergovernmental agreement for consultation with the states over proposed Commonwealth changes to that legislation in due course.

Whether this makes a difference “on the ground” is another question. On one hand, arrangements which truly reflect the Commonwealth’s effective control of the sector make a lot of sense.

On the other, concerns might exist about the flattening effect of too much Commonwealth control – as is ever the case when the forces of centralisation come up against the principle of federal diversity.

The internal governance structures of universities are more diverse than is often realised – so do these risk a one size fits all standardisation if the Commonwealth runs the show?

Where one sits on this question depends a lot on your perspective on the current arrangements – is the Commonwealth already in de facto command or is there still some real value in holding back from the ultimate step of according it formal – and final – authority over the sector?

This opinion piece by Andrew Lynch, Professor in the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW,  was first published in The Conversation.

Commonwealth plots uni takeover

  Australian Financial Review     |   16 December 2013

The Commonwealth government is planning to end the historical role of state governments in the establishment and governance of universities.

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Uni Syd picEducation minister ­Christopher Pyne is in talks with the NSW government about the Commonwealth assuming control over the governance of the state’s 10 universities, which would be the first stage of a national takeover.

Currently, all universities except the Australian National University were ­established as state institutions, although the Whitlam government took over direct funding in 1974 and the Commonwealth  has had an increasing regulatory role, particularly since the establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in 2012.

Under Pyne’s  plan, the “foundation” laws governing each NSW ­university would be taken over by the Commonwealth Parliament and replace state acts.

Pyne regards the division of responsibility as an anachronism, as have most of his predecessors over the past 20 years.  A NSW government spokesman confirmed the state is receptive to the idea if it reduced duplication and red tape for universities, although he described the talks with the Commonwealth government as “preliminary” .

The change would end the NSW ­government’s role as guarantor for ­university debt and the need for universities to seek NSW government approval for borrowing.

University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer said he welcomes the Pyne plan because universities spend too much time and money on compliance and  he  would welcome coming under one government.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence said he would like a discussion about the proposal. He said if the move went ahead his university would want to continue its “positive and productive relationship” with the state of NSW regardless of any legislative arrangements.

The Abbott government is also poised to relieve NSW of the burden of $2 billion of unfunded obligations for superannuation schemes operated by NSW universities. The federal government will take responsibility for 80% of the unfunded obligations of the defined-benefit schemes.

Constitutional law expert George Williams said with the co-operation of the states, the Commonwealth could assume full responsibility for universities.

However, if a state government objected, things could prove very ­difficult, he said.

A state government could, for example, de-corporatise its universities, which would take them out of the remit of the federal Parliament altogether, because whatever power the Commonwealth government has over ­universities comes from the Corporations Act.

Williams said there was some precedent, with Queensland ­de-corporatising its local government bodies to prevent then prime minister John Howard imposing industrial relations requirements.

See
TEQSA loosens grips of states
The Australian 27 April 2011
In employing the constitutional sledgehammer that is the corporations power to establish TEQSA, the commonwealth is poised to crush the residual role of the states in higher education, leaving them as “dead parrots”.

Policy directions in higher education

ACPET     |     15 December 2013

ACPET_Journal_JUNE13_WEB-Cover-imageIn this commentary for the ACPET Journal for Private Education, Brendan Sheehan looks to the higher education policy horizon under the newly elected Coalition government.  On the face of it, he writes,  education generally is an area in which little immediate change would be anticipated, with the major parties going to the election on broadly bipartisan platforms.  But no sooner had the ink dried on Christopher Pyne’s commission as minister for education than he was canvassing a range of interesting propositions around concerning equity, quality and the demand driven system and the sale of HECs debt.   The simple fact of the National Commission of Audit and the Review of the Demand Driven System, both of which are to report in early 2014, portends likely far reaching changes in policies and programs for the higher education sector.   The 2014 Budget on 13 May 2014 ought to be full of interest, in the Chinese curse sense,in a range of areas of government spending.   At the time of the writing of this commentary (early November), Pyne had yet to have a go at his backflip on schools funding, an exercise which makes the observation that “Abbott intends to pursue an orderly and methodical approach to government” seem altogether wrong headed.   That’s the risk with crystal ball gazing.

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

Former prime minister Paul Keating’s declaration that “when you change the government, you change the country” is like most truisms: it is difficult to argue with at a general level but it is actually a gross oversimplification. By definition, voters want to change the country, at least to the extent of changing the government. But there is an enduring, even disarming, thread of continuity in Australian public policy over the past century and more:

  •  the federation project very nearly foundered in the 1890s over the issue of water rights to the various colonies from the Murray Darling Basin
  • protection of Australian manufacturing industry was the issue that defined the first parliaments
  • the first major piece of legislation introduced into the Commonwealth parliament in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Bill
  • Australian foreign policy has always been shaped by the need to nurture a great and powerful friend
  • one of the major social policy initiatives of the Fisher Labor government in 1912 was a baby bonus of £5 payable to mothers of European extraction – think “one for mum, one for dad and one for the country” and multiply by two.

Still, the recent election of the Abbott government portends significant changes in policy direction in a number of areas, the most notable associated with climate change issues. On the face of it, education generally is an area in which little immediate change would be anticipated, with the major parties going to the election on broadly bipartisan platforms.

In the specific area of higher education, Tony Abbott set out in February 2013  “seven policy pillars“, the first and foremost of which was “stability”. Abbott told the Universities Australia conference:

…. we will be a stable and consultative government. If we put in place a policy or a programme, we will see it through. 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.

Unfortunately for universities, that stability and certainty locked in $3.8 billion in funding cuts, including a so-called “efficiency dividend”, effected by the Gillard government in its final year.

Unfortunately also for non-university higher education providers (NUHEPs), stability and certainty would mean that there is no likelihood in the foreseeable future of the policy and funding frameworks of higher education being reworked to accommodate a greater role for them through, for example, the extension of Commonwealth subsidies to private higher education students.

However, no sooner had the ink dried on Christopher Pyne’s appointment as Minister for Education than he set hares running with public musings about the need to review the demand-driven system whereby all students enrolled by a university attract a Commonwealth subsidy.  He declared that you would have to be “living in a bubble if you think that there is not an issue in universities about whether there are quality issues about the extraordinary number of students being enrolled”.

In a sense, this merely continued the bipartisan approach: Pyne’s immediate predecessor, Labor’s Kim Carr, had expressed similar public views during his short tenure.

With ministers in other portfolios exercising their newfound authority, Prime Minister Abbott brought public musings to an end and imposed a cone of silence, requiring that all interviews be “coordinated” through his office.  While it has been widely commented upon, such a degree of central coordination and control is not at all unusual in contemporary media management arrangements and shows that Abbott intends to pursue an orderly and methodical approach to government.

First things first. The Commission of Audit is to report in January and March 2014 in order to inform the development of the Coalition government’s first budget in May 2014. The commission is charged with closely scrutinising all lines of expenditure and making recommendations about priorities, savings, and efficiencies.

It is not at all helpful for that process to have ministers unilaterally ruling things in and/or out. Abbott is starting with a largely clean slate on the budget, apart from a few signature policies such as abolishing the carbon tax and introducing paid parental leave, and understandably he wants to keep it that way, leaving room to move once the commission has reported. If the government is to take contentious decisions, as it certainly will, it wants to be “impelled” by the circumstances (“there is no alternative”), with the authority and justification of the commission’s report behind it.

During the election period, the Coalition argued that Australia faced a budget emergency. The problem was apparently not so much now as “going forward”. The river of gold flowing into Treasury coffers during the decade-long resources boom was spent by governments of both persuasions and was locked in, even as the river dries up and our terms of trade deteriorate. On top of that are recent big ticket areas of expenditure in the offing, including disability care, schools funding, defence capability, parental leave, and transport and other infrastructure. These commitments generally extend beyond the forward estimates period (beyond 2016, after the next election) and are therefore unfunded. The money is yet to be found for such programs. There are also the implications of an ageing population given the rising social costs of looking after the baby boomers in their retirement with fewer overall taxpayers. This will be exacerbated at the other end of the scale by the long-term trend of younger people entering the workforce later as they pursue education and training.

The former government faced these dilemmas in framing its final budget, of how to reconcile a large and growing revenue shortfall with big spending promises. As one commentator put it:

Labor … tried to pursue a sort of “low tax” social democracy. Australia has tried more than any other country to target assistance, promoting equity with very low taxes, but I think we are now seeing the limits of that strategy. We can have decent services or very low taxes — not both.  The ongoing deficit is a sign of Australia’s low tax base.

 The Abbott government has since compounded its own declared emergency with a range of revenue and expenditure measures such as scrapping taxes, changing superannuation arrangements, and bankrolling the Reserve Bank to the tune of $8.8 billion which means that the budget task (returning the budget to balance/surplus over time) has become more difficult. The Budget bottom line has deteriorated at least 30% since the election, with the 2013/14 budget deficit headed south of $40 billion rather that the $30 billion projected in the pre-election economic statement.

One can imagine what the Commission of Audit is going to say about all this – and it won’t be along the lines of proposing tax increases: revenue does not come within the scope of its terms of reference.

It could be argued, and undoubtedly will be by some, that the higher education sector — in reality, the university part of the sector — has already contributed to the budget task through the nearly $4 billion in savings that have been extracted over the current forward estimates period (the next four years).  The National Tertiary Education Union estimates that the savings measures of $2.8 billion announced earlier this year will reduce Commonwealth funding for each student place by $600 between 2012 and 2015.

However, that argument is not at all likely to insulate the sector from further “savings” and “efficiencies”.  One respected commentator, Peter van Onselen (both an academic and a journalist), expects the Coalition government to take the axe to higher education funding in the manner that the Howard government did in its first budget (over the period 1996 to 2001). In that period, Commonwealth outlays on higher education declined from 56.7% of the total to 43.8%, with a commensurate rise in student contributions and fees).

quote marks It 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.

The growth in participation in higher education has sparked a debate about entry standards, with a report by the Australian Council of Educational Research analysing university admission data Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) entry scores — which are used to determine university placements by ranking academic performance relative to every other Year 12 student — showing that ATARs are on average are declining.

Why this should have come as a surprise to anybody is, itself, a surprise. The main aims of the higher education reforms arising out of the Bradley Review process were to:

  1.           increase higher education attainment in the general population and
  2.           increase higher participation by poorly represented population groups (primarily low SES, disadvantaged, regional, and Indigenous people).

The overall effect must be that, on average, a lower ATAR than had hitherto been necessary (or no ATAR at all) will get more applicants into a university course than had previously been the case (though not into any university course at any university).

However, Christopher Pyne has declared that he will not be bound by the former government’s higher education policies, including its targets.

Pyne’s concerns are widely, although nowhere near universally, shared in the sector. There are no definitive data as to whether the average decline in ATARs for university entry has been accompanied by a decline in quality.

Nevertheless, there is a direct correlation between ATAR and risk of dropping out, with analysis by Andrew Norton at the Grattan Institute showing that school leavers who enter university with an ATAR of 90 or above have a 90% chance of completing their degree, and completion rates fall in a corresponding line with lower ATARs. On average, students with ATARs below 60 drop out at a rate of one in three, and those with ATARs below 50 drop out at the rate of 50%.  Norton strongly supports retention of the demand-driven system on the grounds of both equity and efficiency, as do vice-chancellors of universities that have significantly grown their student numbers (and Universities Australia has urged caution on this).

The quality argument has been led by the Group of Eight (Go8) universities, the research-intensive universities at the elite end of the spectrum. They have argued that direct entry to university for school leavers should be restricted to those with an ATAR of 60 or more, with a minimum 70 for teachingAccording to the Go8, this would save $750 million over four years, and that amount could be used to partially offset recent cuts and be partiallyreinvested in an improved system of pathway courses to provide access to higher education for students who do not meet the academic preparation benchmark straight from school.

Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, has said that “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.”

Craven’s correct: of course, it’s about money. His own university has doubled in enrolments since 2009 and, under current settings, is set to grow about another 25% by 2015.  Inevitably, that results in less money going to the older universities — which are growing at nowhere near that rate — and, in a budget constrained environment, it has served to divert public funding from other university activities such as research.  The negative impact of budget savings has fallen on research funding, and, so the research intensive universities claim, disproportionately on them.

However, the Go8 has now moved away from a rather crude, self-serving formulation of “what about us?”, to one of equity. There is a point to that perspective.

Sue Willis and Catharine Burnheim of Monash University have suggested that some of the money being spent on enrolling more low-ATAR students into degrees would be better spent on pathway programs and vocational education and training.  Data show that low-ATAR students, who are selected on the basis of their performance in pathway programs, perform strongly and in a wider range of fields than they would otherwise be able to access:

 Admitting 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.

The Coalition government will not simply restore the caps and return to the highly centralised student place allocation system of the past. Both the Minister for Education and the Prime Minister have ruled that out. Rather, the approach is most likely to be what is obliquely referred to as a “re-calibration” — the caps you have when you don’t have caps. It will most likely be around some form of minimum ATAR.

A recent proposal by Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne (one of the Go8) is that the appropriate cap is on funding rather than on student places, with the universities being broadly free to set their own goals and their student profile, allocating funding between postgraduate and pre-degree places, as well as undergraduate places (only undergraduate places are uncapped). However, as Curtin University (not a G08 member) academic ,Tim Pitman, observed “ ‘(deciding) 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.” Quite.

Still, it is one of the options, and it accords with the sentiment of Abbott’s seven pillars, which include not seeking to “micro-manage universities” (although the Howard government most certainly did as much micro-managing as the Rudd/Gillard governments).

It appears almost certain that the form and level of fees — both the government subsidy for students in Commonwealth supported places and the student contribution (what is usually referred to as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, or HECS) — will come into the Commission of Audit’s considerations.

Minister Pyne himself briefly emerged from the cone of silence to indicate that the Commission of Audit should consider “securitising” HECS debt — that is, selling off the debt to investors, in one form or another.

Although Pyne referred to the sale of student debt in England as some sort of a precedent, he did not mention that it had not exactly been a booming success there.  Two previous attempts have realised relatively small proceeds (a couple of billion pounds against a book value in excess of 40 billion pounds). To be attractive to investors, whatever the short-term boost to the balance sheet, it would have to be on such conditions (involving discounts, higher interest rates, guarantees, and the like) as to impose significant medium- to long-term costs to individuals and government.

The same conditions would apply in Australia. To be attractive to investors, the sale of the debt would have to be at a discount — say $12-15 billion for the $23 billion book value of the debt — and involve other sweeteners, such as an increase in the HECS interest rate to something approximating market rates. As economist Joshua Gans explains it, such a sale would be a mere accounting trick that does not make sense in terms of prudent financial management.

Whether as an alternative to securitisation or as part of a securitisation package, significant changes to HECS (HELP) seem certain. These could include the introduction of a real interest rate (perhaps something higher than CPI but lower than market rates), a lower repayment threshold (currently HECS debtors begin repaying when their income exceeds $51,000), methods to collect repayments from expatriates (bilateral agreements with the UK and New Zealand, to start with), and recovery of HECS debts from deceased estates.  A proponent of such reforms in the past has been former education minister, Amanda Vanstone — a member of the Commission of Audit.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has also set out its own proposals for higher education reform. The BCA’s agenda includes deregulating university fees, an issue that is strongly championed by the Go8 universities and largely (though not universally) opposed by the rest.

Indeed, Go8 chair Fred Hilmer, perhaps the strongest champion of fee deregulation, has taken it a step further, proposing that the public subsidy be withdrawn altogether for some high demand disciplines such as law and business in return for universities being able to charge higher fees. This has been done elsewhere. Although when in opposition the British Conservative Party promised not to interfere with fees, in government they promptly trebled them and withdrew the public subsidies from all but the STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, regarded as core disciplines). Hilmer’s proposal could be taken to its logical extension by “privatising” the student loan as well, supporting it by a public subsidy along US lines. Doing so would fix the growing public HECS burden, albeit at the cost of creating a hybrid system difficult to administer.

Withdrawing the public subsidy for non-STEM disciplines would at least “correct”, in what I would call a perverse sort of way, an inequity in Australian higher education where, with a couple of minor exceptions, only university undergraduate courses attract a public subsidy.  The increasing number of students taking higher education courses at NUHEPs — public and private — get nothing. This places the latter at a distinct competitive disadvantage relative to universities. It significantly disadvantages students undertaking unsubsidised higher education at NUHEPs, many of whom have had an unconventional pathway to higher education as against students undertaking subsidised higher education at a university.

The better way of correcting this inequity would be to extend at least some public subsidy for non-university degree and pre-degree courses. Over the past 18 months or so, collaborative arrangements have been established between universities and NUHEPs, resulting in the tentative emergence of a new style of integrated (or comprehensive) tertiary provider, with a strong orientation towards teaching and scholarship (the “polytechnic”, however described), using Commonwealth Supported Places, such as the Australian Polytechnic Network (APN). It remains tentative because former education minister Chris Evans, vetoed such arrangements while his successor, Chris Bowen, subsequently approved them, at least in the case of the APN. There is no indication of Minister Pyne’s attitude, but, in the current budget environment, it might be supposed that he would not be favourably disposed to see an extension of Commonwealth funding, particularly where it might be seen to support forms of education that in effect substitute for state funded VET activity (which was ostensibly Evans’ reasoning).

In areas of shared funding in Australia’s federal system, particularly concerning health education and training, issues of maintenance of effort, substitution and cost shifting often loom large and hamper service delivery. The Commission of Audit might be expected to pay some attention to them (despite its tight timelines). If the BCA’s reform agenda is any pointer to Tony Shepherd’s, thinking, as it probably does, in tertiary education there would be some strengthening of the Commonwealth’s role to create a more national approach and a more connected tertiary (higher education and VET) system. However, we live in a federation and an ambitious reform agenda of this sort will founder, in the short term, on state sensitivities. States do, after all, constitutionally “own” education and training (even higher education, including universities — but that’s another story). As a sometime state official, I am sympathetic to the argument that “if you give away everything, sooner or later you have nothing left” — and the states end up as mere agencies of the Commonwealth, but that seems to be the ineluctable trend of constitutional evolution in Australia.

Whatever the Commission of Audit recommends in this area (if it recommends anything at all) Minister Pyne would be well advised to take a longer view about the development of Australia’s tertiary sector and eschew short term budget fixes that lock out NUHEPs.

If “quality” and “standards” are the drivers of the review of the demand driven system, a reasonable approach would be to take up the proposition put by Willis and Burnheim that more resources be put into pathway, enabling, and foundation programs.

Government-supported opportunities for access to higher education at the sub-Bachelor Degree level (including Associate Degree and Other Undergraduate programs, and Enabling courses) totalled 25,482 places in 2012. This allocation of places represented just 6% of commencing undergraduate students. Enabling courses comprised two thirds (16,428) of all these government-supported access places.

The purpose of enabling courses, where participation is free and universities are paid a top-up in lieu of the student contribution, originally was stated as being “to provide a pathway to higher education for students from disadvantaged groups who do not yet have the academic preparation to enroll directly in award courses”. In 2013 the enabling loading was increased from an estimated $1,833 to $2,500 per place, and from 2014 it will increase to $3,068 per place (with the rate indexed in later years). The distribution of enabling and sub-bachelor allocated places among universities appears rather haphazard and not necessarily related to low-SES and Indigenous student enrolment shares.  Similarly, the allocation of Associate Degree places appears arbitrary. Of course, it becomes difficult to increase the number of sub-Bachelor allocated places with the cost of uncapped Bachelor places continuing to rise and with students who might benefit from such pathways being accepted directly into university undergraduate courses.

As far as I know, no Commonwealth money flows directly to NUHEPs (though some might flow through indirectly).

It turns out that there is a potential pot of money to fund an expansion of enabling/foundation programs in both the university and NUHEP sectors. The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), aimed at assisting universities to improve access to undergraduate courses for people from low SES backgrounds, expires at the end of 2013.  The former government allocated new funding of nearly $600 million over four years, to the end of 2017, subject to passage of legislation containing the efficiency dividend.  Given the rhetoric around standards, it would be incongruous to allow the program to just expire.  The program might be redesigned somewhat to direct more funding into enabling/foundation programs, available to NUHEPs as well as universities.

In line with the recommendations of theReview of Higher Education Regulation Report, Minister Pyne has already moved to lighten the “regulatory burden” on universities. Pyne might usefully go further and initiate a reconsideration of higher education providers and institutional types.

 A concept that has some currency is that of a university college which is used in a number of countries to denote institutions that provide higher education but do not have full or independent university status, with the university college often being part of a larger university or university system.  A number of NUHEPs, have expressed interest in this concept (sometimes also referred to as a “polytechnic university”).

The rules that govern the accreditation of higher education institutions — the Higher Education Threshold Standards — carefully protect the title of “university” in any form of use — more tightly than anywhere else in the world.  Since 2007, in Australia, a “university college” is specifically defined as an institution seeking ultimate registration as a full university (within five years).  Among other things, a university college is required to provide AQF qualifications up to Masters coursework degrees in at least three broad fields of study and Research Masters and PhD or equivalent Research Doctorates in one field. It has five years to satisfy the requirements of becoming a comprehensive university (research and research training in at least three broad fields).

Ultimately, the rules that govern our system ought to reflect reality and the reality is a continuum of institutional types from “teaching intensive” to “research intensive”.

Dropping the research requirement, a university college would be a higher education teaching institution, perhaps affiliated with a comprehensive university, with its focus on scholarship rather than research in the style of a US Baccalaureate university.  Such an institution would be a convenient vehicle for collaborations and partnerships between universities, TAFEs, and private higher education providers and it would facilitate greater differentiation and diversity within the system in a number of ways.

The existence of these institutions would provide students with a wider choice of institutions — and in thin markets, perhaps provide a local choice, which is vital in terms of providing reasonable accessibility to higher education opportunities.  These institutions could also provide some relief to the Commonwealth Budget and provide students with some choice in terms of price.

The logic of the demand-driven system, as suggested by Bradley, is that Commonwealth funding follows the student regardless of the type of institution, public or private, university or NUHEP, as long as the institution satisfies accreditation and ongoing quality requirements.

Is that going to happen?  Probably not any time soon, but it is an idea whose time must surely come.

 

 

Catch Up

TAFEs claim funding cuts will cost jobs and millions

 The Age      |    23 November 2013

Victorian TAFEs expect to lose millions of dollars and the education union is forecasting hundreds of redundancies in response to further Victorian state government changes to course subsidies.  But the government insists it has not cut overall funding and is moving to stop rorting in the training sector.

 Kangan Institute chief executive Grant Sutherland told staff in an email the changes would result in an estimated $9.2 million reduction in revenue for next year.

 This is clearly a substantial reduction and budgets across the institute are currently being reworked to take into account this impact.  In the interim, as we work through this, approval for staff appointments will be on hold.

 Victoria University deputy vice-chancellor Anne Jones said the changes would cost it  about $3.7 million.

NSW bill tags TAFE as ‘major’ provider

The Australian   |    22 November 2013

The NSW opposition says its amendment to a vocational education bill will force the state government to back away from plans to open training funds to full competition. But the government says the amendment to the bill, which passed parliament on 19 November, won’t change to its “Smart and Skilled” reform plans. 

The upper house amendment to the bill, which establishes a new advisory body called the NSW Skills Board, had previously been rejected by the government-dominated lower house. But the government ultimately agreed to the alteration, which means the Skills Board can only oversee reform that “maintains the TAFE Commission as the major provider of vocational education and training”.

‘Light touch’ could have weighty consequences, says TEQSA chief

The Australian     |      21 November 2013

Carol Nicoll, chief commissioner of  the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency has criticised commentary on the Commonwealth government’s deregulation agenda.  Nicoll told a Senate estimates committee hearing the issue of “a light touch regulator is a significant one, and one that Australia should not take lightly”:

I would hesitate at the use of the term ‘light touch’.   It may signal overseas, particularly in Asia, that Australia is not regulating higher education.

Pyne touts exam for aspiring teachers

The Australian     |    20 November 2013

Aspiring teachers would need to sit a national exam under Commonwealth government plans to assess their proficiency before entering the classroom, under a plan to be taken to a meeting of the nation’s education ministers  on 29 November .

A policy paper prepared for proposes measures to focus on the quality of graduates rather than the length of their course, questioning the decision to replace the 12-month diploma with a two-year post-graduate degree.

The exam would also allow a shortcut to graduation for high-achieving students.

Vocational course subsidies ‘gamed’

The Australian     |       20 November 2013

Ongoing cuts and tweaking to vocational course subsidies under Victoria’s open market system is undermining business certainty.  And too many providers of dubious standard are threatening quality, according to University of Melbourne vocational expert Leesa Wheelahan.

Wheelahan isn’t alone. A private provider, frustrated by another round of changes this week, said the bar to entry needed to be raised to weed out providers that game the system by simply shifting their operations to wherever they can get the highest subsidy.

The provider, who asked not to be named, backed proposals by the National Skills Standards Council for a tougher system of licensing. Under the system, smaller providers without licences could partner with larger ones that have invested in heavily in being accredited and so effectively act as guarantors of quality.

Piccoli calls for cap on teaching degrees

Sydney Morning Herald    |    20 November 2013

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has called for a cap on the number of students allowed to enrol in teaching degrees to curb the state’s oversupply of primary school teachers. 

Fairfax Media has revealed that more than 40,000 teachers are on a waiting list for permanent jobs in NSW and the oversupply of primary teachers is likely to last until the end of the decade even if resignations or retirements double.

Inspiring university teachers awarded

Office of Teaching and Learning    |    19 November 2013

Australia’s best university teachers have been recognised at the 2013 Australian Awards for University Teaching. Senator Scott Ryan, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, congratulated the 13 teachers for their outstanding work, along with recognising nine individual university programs that enhance student learning saying.

The Australian Awards for University Teaching are a nationally recognised marker of esteem.  The outstanding university teachers and programs deserved to be recognised and celebrated for their exceptional work. This year’s recipients have worked to engage students in active learning and relate their curriculum to the world in which we live.  But as commentator Stephen Matchett notes, not actually not a lot of esteem attributed to  winners, as shown by, for example the awards being presented by a parliamentary secretary and the scant media coverage

CQU ‘comprehensive” not ‘dual’

The Australian   |     18 November 2013

Australias newest dual-sector university, CQUniversity, will instead be calling itself “comprehensive”, with vice-chancellor Scott Bowman warning  that thinking of the institution in two parts will simply create hierarchies. 

Bowman, whose CQUniversity merges with Central Queensland Institute of TAFE in July,  said Dual sector means two parts, and if you say higher education, then you’ve got lower education.   This won’t be a dual sector university. We’re talking about being a comprehensive university.

Canberra University to bypass union on pay deal

ABC News    |     12 November 2013

The University of Canberra has announced it will bypass the union representing university academics and take a proposed pay offer direct to staff.

University management has been in talks with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) for almost a year but negotiations became deadlocked over a proposal to link pay rises to the amount university funds are indexed by the Federal Government.

University World News 10 November 2013

UWorld_nl_masthead_new

Chile – The canary in the global higher education privatisation coalmine

In Commentary, Cristina González argues that Chile is an early and extreme example of the privatisation of higher education, and that turmoil in the generally high-fee, low-quality sector may be a preview of things to come in other countries.
Roger Y Chao Jr contends that to counter fraud in higher education, China will need to tackle its cultural roots, pressures linked to rankings and an overemphasis on commerc ialisation of research. And Diana Beech previews a conference taking place this month that aims to give researchers a voice in shaping research policy in Europe.
In World Blog, William Patrick Leonard argues that, with the US public tertiary education community in crisis, chief financial officers at institutions need to pursue cost-cutting rather than enhancement measures – but are not.
In Features, Yojana Sharma describes new forms of collaboration with foreign universities in Suzhou, aimed at boosting research and innovation in China. Kalinga Seneviratne reports on Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a university in Nalanda in India set up to revive the ancient Buddhist seat of learning – but now being overshadowed by the planned high-profile Nalanda International University.
John Ryan reviews the life and work of Robert Barnard, a UK academic and mystery writer who died in September. And in Student View, Aengus Ó Maoláin looks at two recent global debates on access and says the student movement is determined to fight for increased access to higher education through universal funding.

Karen MacGregor – Global Editor

 

NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report

 

GLOBAL

Bianka Siwinska

The directors of higher education research centres from around the world flew to Shanghai for their first ever global meeting last weekend and, encouragingly, policy-makers also attended. The aims were to discuss the future of research on higher education, to debate common issues – and to create a global network of higher education research experts.

 

THAILAND

Suluck Lamubol

The Thai government’s attempt to pass a blanket amnesty bill for ‘political’ offences, in an ill-judged bid to promote political reconciliation, has brought university lecturers, rectors and student groups out onto the streets in scenes of protest the likes of which the country has not witnessed in many years.

 

EUROPE

Alan Osborn

Is European higher education generally delivering the right kind of qualifications for citizens gearing up to tackle the challenges and opportunities of today’s world, or is it missing targets along the line? This is not a new question, but it has been given a fresh twist in the Education and Training Monitor 2013 released by the European Commission.

 

GLOBAL

Peta Lee

Education ministers from the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – countries met in Paris last Tuesday and agreed to establish a mechanism at the “highest political and technical level” to coordinate and implement collaboration, especially in higher education.

 

IRAN

Shafigeh Shirazi

Iran’s parliament, or Majlis, has finally approved the country’s new ministers for education and higher education, after previous nominees for the posts failed to win a parliamentary vote of confidence in August. They will continue reforms, said President Hassan Rouhani.

 

SPAIN

Paul Rigg

The Spanish government has been forced to backtrack on plans to cut payments to thousands of Erasmus students studying abroad – within five days of the plan being announced.

 

GREECE

Makki Marseilles

As the strike by administrative staff that has paralysed major universities in Greece entered its ninth week, Education Minister Kostantinos Arvanitopoulos targeted rectors of still-closed institutions in Athens – and ordered them to “take action to resolve the situation or face the consequences of the law”.

 

NORWAY

Jan Petter Myklebust

Bjørn Haugstad, junior minister for education in Norway’s new conservative-populist coalition government, has announced that the process to upgrade colleges to university status has been suspended because of quality concerns.

 

SRI LANKA

Dinesh De Alwis

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Higher Education has instructed all state universities to close from 8-17 November due to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – CHOGM. But students believe the move is an attempt to silence them – and have taken to the streets in protest.

 

EGYPT

Ashraf Khaled

A decision by Egypt’s military-installed government, giving police a role in securing the country’s restive universities, has raised fears of much-hated security agencies’ interference in academic life – again.

 

UNITED STATES

Karin Fischer, The Chronicle of Higher Education

In a sudden role reversal, the number of Indian students entering American graduate schools this autumn exploded, while the share of new graduate students from China increased only modestly.

 

GLOBAL

Geoff Maslen

The international Square Kilometre Array office awarded contracts last week to prepare for construction of the world’s largest radio telescope – and the biggest science experiment ever undertaken. Comprising 3,000 dish antennas covering a total area of one square kilometre in remote regions of Australia and South Africa, the telescope will be 50 times more sensitive and 10,000 times faster than the world’s current most powerful radio telescopes.

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Geoff Maslen

Academics at Britain’s University of Birmingham are working with international scientific publisher Elsevier to investigate the “discourse of interdisciplinary research”, known as IDR, through a comprehensive and innovative linguistic analysis of the full content since 1990 of a successful IDR journal, Global Environmental Change.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Ishmael Tongai

Postgraduate students in South Africa are mainly concerned with funding, career guidance, future opportunities and mentorship support, says a new report by the South African Young Science Academy. The report provides insight into some of the reasons for the low production rate of doctoral students in the country.