The Week That Was (14 June)

Financial rating agency Standard and Poor’s takes a dim view of the government regulating international student numbers, suggesting it would “crimp operating margins, choking funding for research and halting the advance of Australian tertiary institutions up global rankings.”

“The lockout of foreign students during the pandemic suggests they have moderate flexibility to cope with future downturns,” S&P adds –  just the thing university CFOs considering debt financing costs will want to hear.


Western Sydney U is world number one, again, in the Times Higher Impact Rankings, “identifying and celebrating universities that excel across multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”  It’s followed by Uni Tasmania (equal 2nd) and ten more in the first 100. To the undoubted delight of Sharon Pickering and Attila Brungs, Monash U (32) and UNSW (seven) are in the global top 50 –  demonstrating that at least some Group of Eight have a social conscience. Angel Calderon has the full story in Future Campus today.


That government R&D spending is unchanged at 0.17 per cent of GDP was met with standard harrumphing yesterday, along ‘Australia is behind Burkina Faso’ lines. Never mind the Bureau of Statistics also announced that Gross domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) grew 20 per cent in two years, to $4.3bn – and that this is without higher ed outlays. The chorus of lament was a rehearsal for Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic’s coming “strategic examination” of research and development,  where public sector providers will argue they should receive more government funding and the private sector, via the R&D Tax Incentive, less. The Budget Papers predict a $2.6bn increase in the R&D TI over five years.


SA Premier Peter Malinauskas wants a state exemption from the international student cap. Mr Malinauskas pushed Uni Adelaide and Uni SA into merging because he believes the combined Adelaide U will attract international students. It will be the first of much special pleading, which can be stopped before it starts by the government only applying caps to the real targets, Monash U and the Universities of Melbourne, NSW  Queensland and Sydney – widely viewed as too big and too rich and politically friendless.


Griffith U announces it has raised $100m for its “Brighter Future for All” research and scholarship fundraising campaign. The target is $125m. A “quiet phase of fundraising” began in 2018, with a launch in October 2023.


Jason Clare dog-whistled to environment-focused voters on why the government opposes nuclear power for Australia on Sky News on Sunday. “Because it costs a bomb,” he said.

He also had a message that might appeal to voters who don’t much like big universities that enrol a bunch of international students. While acknowledging the percentage rate of post pandemic growth was greater in VET,  he responded to a question about a cap on international places for “Sydney Uni”, saying, “what we want here, and what we want to incentivise here is the construction of more student housing as part of this. So we’re going to set limits for individual universities, but the fact is there’s not enough accommodation for Australian students or international students.”

And he added that there are, “a lot of universities, in particular the smaller universities (are) happy for international numbers to be regulated.

“I think there’s a certain logic and common sense here, that if we regulate the number of Australian students, that we should do that also for international students … with international students coming back as fast as they have, and it’s not just Australia, it’s Canada and in the UK as well, it’s important that we maintain the social licence for this important export,” he told Andrew Clennell.

And it’s going to happen soon, with caps set in the next three months, but on an institution’s overall numbers, rather than on courses; “in a sense that’s a reserve power,” he said.

It’s all about “sustainable growth over the longer term.”

When Clennell asked if the issue had come up in Labor focus groups Mr Clare replied, “buggered if I know mate, I don’t look at focus groups.”

But party strategists who do will like the signal the cap sends – it is line with Labor’s apparent plan to neutralise student numbers as an election issue. On Wednesday Home Affairs Minister Clair O’Neill announced a ban on people who are in Australia on visitor visas moving to student stays.


There’s a new sheriff in cyber-Dodge. The American Standards Institute, (“promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems”) convenes a “brainstorming session” on AI and machine learning in public-private partnerships. “There is a longstanding recognition in the U.S. that standards are a building block for U.S. innovation, competitiveness, security, and quality of life,” is the pitch. It’s a start at establishing order to the wild, wild west of applied AI. Healthcare and manufacturing are focus-industries – teaching and research don’t get a mention, perhaps they are still preoccupied with arguing about the last next big thing, microcredentials.


The Feds are quietly releasing research the O’Kane Accord team commissioned to assist deliberations. Last Friday, a paper appeared by Ryan Young (ANU National Security College) on “future disruptions for Australian universities.”

And on Tuesday the Department of Education published a commissioned paper on improving learning and teaching, by Uni Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education (separate story in FC).

The number one recommendation is to establish a successor to the Office of Learning and Teaching – which sounds innocuous enough, unless it was given option four to run, mandated HE teaching and certified qualifications.

The Accord final report endorsed a successor to the OLT and recommendation 31 creates enough room to create teaching standards and “encourage” qualifications.



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