The Week That Was

Rating agency Moodys affirms Uni Tasmania as Aa2, referring to its “sound financial position” and “stable outlook.” Which is not how the Save UTasCampus campaign sees it. “The survival of our only university is at risk with the need for a state government financial bailout a very real possibility.” The campaigns wants management to abandon its CBD move and stay at Sandy Bay.

TEQSA is in trouble. The report of the Senate committee inquiry into “current and proposed sexual consent laws in Australia,” is scathing  about how universities and their peak lobby deal with sexual violence. But the committee also reports witness criticisms of the regulator’s response to sexual violence at universities.

Friends of the agency point out that TEQSA is not a complaints agency,  which its website makes plain, “(it) does not have a role in addressing individual complainants’ request or grievances.”

Perhaps the Senate committee missed this, or perhaps did not consider it sufficient cover, given, “TEQSA accepts complaints about higher education providers’ compliance with the legislation we administer.”

As the committee report states, “stakeholders suggested that a large part of the problem is the lack of effective oversight of the university sector, with TEQSA ill-equipped and failing to effectively enforce Tertiary Education Threshold Standards 2.3 and 2.4.”

The first covers “general and specific facets of a provider’s operations that are aimed at the promotion of safety and wellbeing,” the second, student, “access to mechanisms that resolve grievances effectively, at reasonable cost and with appropriate protection for complainants from breach of confidentiality or reprisal.”

Whatever its reason, the committee recommends, the “Commonwealth government commissions an independent review of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s response to sexual violence on university campuses.”

It is hard to see Education Minister Jason Clare ignoring this, although instead of a new review he could refer it to the existing working group on campus safety which includes Patty Kinnersly, chair of Our Watch which works on prevention of violence against women and children.

Whatever form it takes, TEQSA’s performance on a core function is up for critical scrutiny.

To all of which the agency’s acting CEO Mary Russell responds, “TEQSA is committed to playing its part in the government’s work to strengthen prevention and responses to sexual harm. We agree that there is much more work to be done and will continue to engage with students, experts, advocates and higher education providers to help make higher education a safer place.” Which does not disguise the gravity of the committee’s report.

Australian Catholic U gets the message that the government wants universities to improve initial teacher education, launching a centre “for the advancement of literacy.”  “Scientifically validated literacy practices for teachers and improved student reading outcomes are at the heart,” is the message. Maybe it will distract the Commonwealth’s Initial Teacher Education Quality Assurance Board, which will “monitor the quality and consistency” of ITE programmes.

However Monash U has a survey that finds initial teacher education students consider their course good through to excellent.

“on the evidence of our representative survey of Australian teachers, policymakers cannot claim that dissatisfaction with ITE programs is the general view of the country’s teaching profession.”

But there is always room to improve – by providing teachers with more professional development, “that more closely responds to their needs.”

Griffith U chancellor, Andrew Fraser is not optimistic about what will emerge from the Accord. For a start, universities are way back in the funding queue, led  by Medicare, aged care, the NDIS, defence and fiscal repair. He hopes for an education infrastructure fund but expresses no optimism.

What needs to be done, to advance universities up the public priorities, he tells leaders of the Innovative Research Universities, is become resources that their communities use.

“We need to not just live in the communities in which we reside, we need to be alive in those communities and positively impact them not merely exist in a place. Our health clinics, tax clinics, and legal clinics must serve them; our lands, sporting fields, facilities must be open and genuinely on offer. …. We need to think about ourselves around a concept of teaching, research and impact,” he said

“As public universities, as public institutions, in receipt of public funding we must serve the broader … the entire public, and not just deliver a public good.”

The Australian Research Council had a similar idea a ways back, to demonstrate the human-scale benefits of research, but alas Engagement and Impact is no more.

The Fair Work Commission is reviewing awards and invites “proposals to make modern awards easier to use without reducing entitlements for award-covered employees.” This is not a problem in HE, given universities have enterprise agreements – but they can be a problem  – there are times when unions and managements can’t agree on the meaning of what they agreed to.

The coalition’s student contribution rates stay in place for 2024 – indexed on ’23 by 7.8 per cent (inflation, don’t you know) – which means HASS, law and bized students are slugged with an extra $1200 a year. This takes their payment $16 323, compared to medicine, which has a HELP charge of $12,720.

In contrast degrees the coalition approved of, nursing, teaching, agriculture will cost students $4445.

University of Wollongong opens the flash new campus of its Hong Kong College. This appears the culmination of a project starting when UoW got involved with the Community College of City Uni HK, in November 14.

Uni Southern Queensland launches it’s “thought leadership” programme with a panel discussion, “how Australia is contributing to the future of space.”

USQ will be glad it asked itself about that – the previous government was big on space tech and the university leads the Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications and Hypersonics Hub, (iLAuNCH to its friends) with $50m in funding from the University Trailblazer programme.

The current government is not as keen –  “space” is not one of the seven national reconstruction fund priorities.

The 2022 NSW budget included $142m for research and development with CSIRO, universities and industry plus $342m for research translation both over four years but in yesterday’s first budget from the newish Labor Government there is as much as no new money for research.

But all faith is not lost – the Labor Government of Victoria continues its pandemic practice of supporting applied research, announcing it will match $7.5-$9m from universities, to drive “commercialisation of their own research.”  Deakin, La Trobe, Monash and Swinburne are participating universities (Uni Melbourne committed last year).

If at first you don’t succeed … Students who fail the Language and Numeracy Initial Teacher Education Test can keep trying until they do this year and next, as part of a trial. And if they don’t failures won’t count for the three goes they normally get, before being barred for two years.  As of this year, aspiring teachers can sit LANTITE before they start a course, “this will offer more certainty and fairness to prospective ITE students and require ITE providers to provide targeted assistance to those who need it.”

Producing more and benefiting less? Probably not. The Productivity Commission reviews “wage decoupling” where productivity increases faster than pay. It’s happened in mining, what with booming international prices but not in education and training – where there was zero decoupling between 1995 and 2022. 



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