Wednesday 13 November

Demand-driven system – calls for reform

University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis’ call for the government to roll back the demand-driven system and cap funding rather than student places has met with a mixed reception in the sector, with regional universities strongly advocating for the demand-driven system to be retained to allow for participation goals to be met. However, Group of Eight colleagues such as UNSW VC Fred Hilmer are backing even more radical reform, suggesting that the upcoming review of the demand-driven system should consider at least partial fee deregulation – a contentious issue within the sector. In The Conversation, Curtin University’s Tim Pitman strongly criticises Davis’ proposal to cap university funding, noting the significant long-term economic advantages to increasing access to higher education and highlighting the government’s role in providing some direction the universities on areas of national need, such as nursing.

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Announcement of ARC grants and Future Fellowships

Outcomes of the Australian Research Council major grants and Future Fellowship rounds have now been announced, with the total amount awarded increasing slightly from the previous year. The government had been under fire for the delay in announcing Future Fellowships, which saw many researchers needing to re-apply due to uncertainty about outcomes. In an article published in The Conversation, University of Newcastle Laureate Professor Jon Borwein deconstructs science policy under the Coalition government, highlighting the "dismal record" of government-directed research and suggesting that fundamental research must continue to be funded to ensure Australia does not fall behind.

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University of Melbourne and India partnership

The University of Melbourne has signed a research partnership agreement with three of India’s prestigious IIT institutions, which would send up to 16 Melbourne PhD students to Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore (IISc), the Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) & the Institute of Technology Madras. The Melbourne-India Postgraduate Program will commence in 2014, and is focused in science and engineering. In other international news, Macquarie University has revamped its international operations, appointing Professor Jim Lee (formerly of Queens University in Canada) as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) and Ms Nicole Brigg (formerly of Griffith University) as Director of Macquarie International.

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ACCC and MOOCs

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched a third MOOC-style course for tertiary students on competition and consumer law, with the free program intended to integrate with more generalist degrees such as MBAs and media studies. While the course is aimed at students, the ACCC has highlighted that the focus of the program is providing academics with teaching tools to incorporate within their own programs rather than any formal credential offered online.

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HECS-HELP reform option

Former Universities Australia chief Glenn Withers outlines options for reforming the HECS-HELP scheme in the Financial Review, suggesting that full privatisation should be rejected in favour of reforming the budget rules about debt accounting. Withers assesses a range of options, including broadening HECS to cover living costs, extending the scheme to international students, reform to repayment thresholds and interest rates, and securitisation of HECS debt to private investors.

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Private providers and TAFE needed for higher participation rates

A new study by the Australian Council for Educational Research indicates that it is unlikely that the former government’s ambitious higher participation targets will be met without expanding provision by private providers and vocational education providers such as TAFE. The report notes the significant growth in enrolments in the private education sector outstrips that within universities, and suggests that the government must expand Commonwealth-supported places to such providers if it wishes to meet the target of 40% attainment by 2025.

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