August 29, 2017

High Wired update: Follow the higher ed money

The Australian 8:59AM August 29, 2017

In today’s HW, we follow the higher ed money and delight in out-of-the-box thinking by the government.

Good times

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has seized upon CQU’s pay deal — a 2 per cent annual wage increase — to suggest universities can easily afford the relative austerity of his $2.8 billion in higher education savings. Birmo says: “It defies logic to claim there will be mass sackings because of a reduction in the rate of growth in government funding but to then sign off on enterprise bargaining deals well in excess of current community norms’’. Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson is not impressed: “Let’s be clear, this is a real cut that will have a real impact on universities. You can’t impose cuts of this size without affecting the quality of student services, teaching, infrastructure, and university research.”

Side-stepping the Senate

Yesterday the AFR’s Phillip Coorey reported that a sneaky government is looking for other ways to achieve $2.8 billion in savings if the Senate blocks the higher education package. The news incensed the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson who is on education business in India. “The government claims it cares about students,” she says, “but clearly not the 1.4 million university students at our universities. Any suggestions that the government would bypass the Senate to ram through budget cuts to the university sector simply prove that the changes to higher education have never been about reform of the university sector but about cutting budgets — plain and simple. These are cuts which mean students will pay more while universities get less.”

Paying more, getting less

Thomson goes on: “They are the most brutal cuts by a federal government in more than 20 years — $2.8bn of direct commonwealth funding stripped out of the system. The Senate cross bench has entered into discussions with the Go8, the broader sector and the government in good faith and this demonstrates that — for the government — it was never about reform but about finding budget savings from a sector already reeling from successive cuts. It is why we have implored the Senate to block the legislation in its entirety. It is only this approach that can ensure Australia’s students will be saved from paying far more for less. We have reached a tipping point that will affect the quality of the teaching and research we deliver. It is a tipping point for the economy where we are currently the nation’s third largest export sector and most importantly, a tipping point that affects all students at Australian universities, including the 375,000 students at the Go8, many of whom are being asked to pay more for less.”

Student diplomacy

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has launched an alumni ambassadors program as part of the outbound study New Colombo Plan. She announced 39 students had been selected — “one New Colombo Plan alumnus from each Australian university to promote the value of engaging with the Indo-Pacific region on campuses and communities across Australia” — as part of a 2017-18 trial. “There are already more than 9,000 New Colombo Plan alumni and the cohort will grow by around 10,000 a year. This diverse group of Australians with strong professional and personal networks across the region will be a driving force in our future prosperity.”

Recycled news

The Fin has a delightful example of repurposed news. Earlier this month we reported remarks by former ANU business dean Keith Houghton that although his research showed that universities as a sector had lifted efficiency over recent years, the track record of some institutions suggested they would struggle to find the productivity to meet the government’s 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend. Yesterday Houghton and his research reappeared in the Fin with a more optimistic slant: “Universities would only have to boost their productivity to save more than the $1.2bn the Turnbull government is trying to cut from university funding in the next four years, according to a new study. Research by economist Keith Houghton shows that if all universities could reach at least 85 per cent of the productivity level attained by Australia’s most efficient universities, the university system could save well over $500 million a year, or in excess of $2bn over four years.” It’s the if that makes all the difference.

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The Australian August 29th, 2017