Wednesday 27 November

Demand-driven review

The government’s review of demand-driven funding has triggered a flurry of responses within the sector, most recently from incoming Chair of the Group of Eight universities Professor Ian Young calling for an expansion of sub-degree places to ensure students are appropriately prepared for university. In a joint public statement, Melbourne VC Glyn Davis and Australian Catholic University VC Greg Craven have also signalled their support for demand-driven funding as a transformational public policy innovation and "an important motion toward deregulation of universities". Some commentators have suggested that the review is "premature" given the system has only been in place for two years, while others have noted the previous public positions of the review chairs David Kemp and Andrew Norton may flag a "sympathetic" consideration of the current system. In the Australian Financial Review, Victoria University’s Mark Burford has suggested that the review should consider shifting financial responsibility to the Commonwealth for all programs where VET and higher education link to ensure an integrated tertiary education system.

More here:

Research funding

Research funding is also under the spotlight, with research policy expert Thomas Barlow cautioning the government against narrowing research funding to strategic government priorities rather than via a competitive grant process. Barlow also highlights the reduction in funding for Australian Research Council Linkage Grants as a key contributor to low levels of collaboration between industry and researchers. Conversely, Tim Dodd argues in the Australian Financial Review that research funding is not linked well enough to areas of potential competitive advantage for Australia, pointing to the National Information and Communication Technology Centre of Excellence (NICTA) as a model for linking research to core competitive industries. The disproportionate concentration of research funding in Group of Eight universities is also noted, with University of the Sunshine Coast PVC Roland de Marco highlighting the “skewed” distribution given Australia’s record of "world-class or higher" research.

More here:

Teacher training

Debate about teacher training continues to rage, with NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli calling for a cap on teacher education places to address the "oversupply" of primary school teachers in the state. In combination with the NSW Government’s implementation of new entry standards stipulating that from 2015 school leavers wishing to study teaching must score at least a band five in three HSC subjects, including English, the move has sparked a stern response from universities concerned at government incursion into entry standards. In a move aimed at boosting teacher quality, the South Australian government has announced that all new teachers will be required to hold a Master degree qualification and have studied for at least give years. Questions have been raised about funding models for such a move, with the government set to consult with universities and teaching bodies in the state.

More here:

IRU submission to Commission of Audit

In a submission to the government’s Commission of Audit, the Innovative Research Universities group (of which the University of Newcastle is a member) has highlighted that research funding no longer needs to be concentrated in particular universities due to the increasing globalisation and virtualisation of research. The submission, which supports the retention of the demand-driven system of student funding, argues that open competition for funds encourages all universities to improve outcomes, and suggests streamlining the many smaller grant processes to reduce red tape and duplication. Still on red tape, ANU DVC Marnie Hughes-Warrington argues that the concept of “earned autonomy” for universities should be extended beyond regulatory reporting to financial management and strategy, stating that universities’ "lack of agency" in funding arrangements stifles innovation and encourages negative "self-regulation".

More here:

Regional universities

The role of regional universities has also been examined in today’s Australian, with Central Queensland University’s Drew Dawson suggesting that increasing diversification and commodification of higher education would see students at regional universities benefit from the pastoral support offered at smaller local campuses. Dawson suggests that regional universities should not try to mimic the "dead or dying" model of Group of Eight institutions but should capitalise on their smaller scale and "intimacy". The Government’s pre-election commitments to increased support for regional students are also under review, with opposition higher education spokesman Kim Carr querying how the government would pay for the flagged $10,000 tertiary access allowance for up to 172,000 regional students.

More here:

MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continue to flourish, with UK provider FutureLearn to partner with the British Council to offer English language courses focused on preparing students from non-English speaking backgrounds for higher education study. The courses, which will be trialled initially in India, will also assist students to prepare for the IELTS threshold examination of English proficiency. Within Australia, demand for "taster" courses offered through Open Universities Australia appears strong, with enrolments rising almost 36% to nearly 18,000 and courses recording strong completion rates; however, translating interest in MOOCs to higher education enrolments remains a challenge, with Open Universities Australia acknowledging that "migration" was lower than expected. In the Conversation, Griffith University’s Jason Lodge analyses the “failure” of open education provider Udacity, suggesting that the focus on reducing the time and cost of study was delivered at the expense of a quality learning experience and the development of critical thinking skills.

More here: