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Base funding review “critical”

It is imperative that the higher education sector reach consensus on the base funding review and
do a better job of leading on policies that affect it, says Professor Glyn Davis, incoming head of
Universities Australia. “I’ve always argued government doesn’t need to divide and conquer the
sector because we’re so good at it ourselves,” he told the UA conference last week. He said the
sector lacked political clout and would remain vulnerable until it communicated its value to the
public. But while the sector is united in arguing that the focus should be on boosting government
funds rather than increasing student fees, a potential flashpoint is the merits or otherwise of
allowing some discretion to universities to set their own fees, a step Davis favours. Davis
acknowledged that Australian students are already paying a lot by world standards, so increases
for funding that purely came from students would create a lot of unease in the sector as well as
the community. Davis also ruled out teaching-only universities and signalled institutions would
jealously guard the title university amid competition from private providers and TAFEs.

Don’t upset the indexation apple cart
V-Cs have highlighted indexation as the most important Bradley reform, which they don’t want
watered down by flood cuts or funding reshuffles. UA chair Professor Peter Coaldrake said some
people in the sector were unhappy that the new indexation arrangements weren’t due to kick in
until 2012 but it would be “stupidity to renegotiate it”. University of Wollongong vice-chancellor
Professor Gerard Sutton said the new indexation formula was essential to the sector’s viability,
and the most important reform to emerge from the Bradley review. “If we do not have it, the
sector is in decline,” he told the UA conference.

Regional loading review

A report from a reference group on funding for regional campuses was completed last year but
has yet to see the light of day. While rural vice-chancellors believe the government is considering
the findings as part of the budget negotiations, higher education consultant David Phillips suspects
the Government will wait until the recommendations of the base funding review due in October.
Both the government and the opposition were criticised at last week’s Universities Australia
conference for a "policy vacuum" in regional provision. La Trobe University vice-chancellor Paul
Johnson said poor, inconsistent and ad hoc policy development had resulted in a "mish-mash" of
provision.




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TEQSA legislation

Legislation for the new tertiary regulator should explicitly acknowledge the traditional right of
universities to self-accredit all their courses, Group of Eight executive director Mike Gallagher says.
Draft legislation speaks of higher education providers being allowed to self-accredit one or more
courses and of a carry-over of the authority to self-accredit under state law. Gallagher says this is
an oblique authorisation and it fails to recognise the special role of universities as a category in
which they are defined as self-accrediting. Although the revised draft bill represents progress
since the initial draft, Gallagher questioned the unprecedented power given the Commonwealth
minister to set standards for autonomous universities on teaching, learning and to make other
standards against which the quality of higher education can be assessed. However, as Gavin
Moodie reports, Universities Australia now mostly agrees with the government on the bill that
would establish the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. The one substantive point
of disagreement is where universities' authority to accredit their programs should be provided in
the act establishing TEQSA, which would ensure reasonable prominence and security or in
provider standards, such as regulations and other disallowable instruments. With it being
government policy to combine the HE and VET national regulators from or after the bills for TEQSA
and the VET regulator are similar but have minor variations. The most significant inconsistency is
whether tertiary education institutions would be required to provide “courses of study” as is the
case with higher education institutions but not VET institutions. There is an elaborate and wrong
ideology, says Moodie that seeks to justify vocational education's claim that it is possible to confer
an award without providing a course of study, which needs to be critically re-examined.
Meanwhile, with respect to legislation to establish the national VET regulator, Senate scrutiny of
bills committee chair Helen Noonan says the committee is particularly troubled by the range of
seemingly excessive powers and apparent lack of appropriate safeguards and will be seeking the
minister’s advice about numerous provisions, including the operation of search warrant
provisions, the abrogation of the privilege against self-incrimination in some circumstances, broad
discretionary powers, and the adequacy of training for ‘authorised officers’. Wait until they get
down to tin tacks with the TEQSA legislation.

Carr says second-rate research won’t do

The government could not afford to fund “second-rate” research but universities had time to fix
poorly performing disciplines, research and innovation minister Senator Kim Carr told a higher
education conference in Canberra last week. In a message delivered as part “impassioned speech,
part stern warning”, Carr reiterated that the new Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA)
initiative would inform many government policy and funding decisions affecting university
research. He also told delegates at the Universities Australia conference that ERA would have an
impact on upcoming compact negotiations. “This is serious, very serious.” But in a cutting critique
of ERA, Professors Adrian Gibbs and Barry Osmond, say that, “as with most faith-based polemics”,
Carr’s comments are “rhetoric-rich and evidence-free”. It will y have serious unintended long-
term consequences, such as Australian research will increasingly following the research fashions
of Europe and America, rather than work of direct value to Australia. Visiting academic Dennis
Tourish suggests that “lists” (the journal rankings which underpin ERA) are inherently flawed, and
are a threat to traditional university values. They demoralise academics, damage scholarship and
infringe academic freedom. Stephen Buckle says the ERA results are no reliable guide to whether




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our universities are failing or not, whether they show that staff in the humanities are of poorer
quality than elsewhere in the universities.

ERA rankings

An internal Australian National University review of ERA outcomes shows that 21.8 per cent of
Macquarie University’s four-digit fields of research were rated five, well above world-class
standard. This puts Macquarie ahead of five of the Go8 universities, with only ANU, Melbourne
and Queensland performing better. The ranking also puts the universities of NSW and Adelaide
ahead of Sydney and Monash, with Murdoch beating the University of Western Australia to ninth
spot. At Murdoch 14.7 per cent of its four-digit fields of research achieved the top rating.

Amenities fee just “just another tax”
A Coalition dominated select committee has urged senators not to pass the student support and
amenities bill, describing the proposed student service levy as a “new tax” and warning it could be
used to cross-subsidise political activism. The report, The student amenities fee – another tax by
another name, was released last week by the Senate select committee on scrutiny of new taxes.

Professional doctorates to be allowed

The Australian Qualifications Framework will include a new extended masters and allow use the
title "doctor of” for some masters courses, typically in medical and health fields, under a proposal
to be put to a ministerial council. It will also recognise the qualification “Juris Doc”, which has
been the cause of some controversy.

DEEWR to continue peer review for ALTC-style grants
The Commonwealth will put in place governance arrangements to ensure appropriate peer review
in future innovative teaching grants and awards once DEEWR takes over the business of the
Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) next January. . Yet the decision to disband the
ALTC for a small saving of $9.5 million a year seems not only petty and unfair to those who have
made the ALTC a success but will have real impact on the quality of the learning experience of not
only those currently at university but for future generations of students, says retired academic
Adrian Lee. DEEWR and TEQSA are not configured to do the job.

Furore over alpine grazing “blackmail”

The National Tertiary Education Union is demanding full disclosure over allegations the Victorian
government tried to blackmail the University of Melbourne over research into cattle grazing in
alpine areas. Until such disclosure, there will be question marks over the government's conduct
and the integrity of research being conducted at Melbourne School of Land and Environment,
according to the NTEU. Melbourne University VC Glyn Davis said in response to the blackmail
allegations that the university does not tailor its research work to respond to political pressure nor
had the Victorian government used research grant powers to force particular research outcomes.




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“Blitz” to lure Chinese students

Australia will attempt to lift its fading fortunes in the critical $5 billion-a-year Chinese student
market with a fresh marketing blitz at China's largest education show, which starts in Beijing on
Sunday. High powered Parliamentary Secretary for Trade Justine Elliott will visit the show as part
of a four-day trip to Australia's largest student market. It will be the first time Austrade, which
markets Australian education overseas, will use the new Australia Unlimited branding to sell
education, although the university sector, has called for its own sub-brand. Private higher
education provider Navitas has signalled the worst is over in the collapse of overseas student
numbers, with the business in recovery after a low point last October. Chief executive Rod Jones
said student numbers had been on the increase since then, with feedback from agents in key
markets, including China, suggesting this positive trend was being felt nationally across the
international education sector. The UA conference was told that universities will have no choice
but to lower their international fees to remain competitive in the international education market.

Unis urged to modernise as tough times loom
Forecaster Phil Ruthven says vice-chancellors to start changing some of the traditions universities
hold most dear. Tough years loom for universities, requiring them to transform outdated
traditions into strict business strategies for the future. Speaking at the UA conference, Ruthven
universities sell hard assets such as land and buildings to free up billions of dollars, some emerge
as publicly listed corporations and pursue intellectual property, and all hire staff as sub-
contractors instead of employees (the latter point having considerable merit). Ruthven said
universities of the future would be niche focused, with fewer faculties. Their degrees would be
cheaper, shorter and offered over more semesters and longer hours. For some, virtual reality and
cyber-classrooms would become the norm.

New V-C at Swinburne
Swinburne University of Technology has appointed its third vice-chancellor and president,
Professor Linda Kristjanson. Currently deputy vice-chancellor, Research and Development at
Curtin University, Kristjanson’s international career includes a distinguished research track record
and significant strategic leadership roles.

GERMANY: Another state joins dash to scrap fees
Tuition fees will be scrapped in North-Rhine Westphalia from the coming winter semester. By
then, higher education institutions in just four of Germany's 16 Federal states will still be charging
fees.

For an academic environment, it was the most shocking experience

Staff accustomed to academic rigour and established procedures for university appointments and
teaching were in for a surprise when they were recruited to Macquarie University's Centre for
Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, under the leadership of former NSW Police Minister
Peter Anderson. According to an independent report, the centre was characterised by "ad hoc,
almost chaotic" staffing, bullying and victimisation of staff, conflicts of interest and nepotism.




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