September 11, 2017

Universities and Government dig in on funding cuts

Tim Dodd – Education editor

“….Former Australian National University business and economics dean Keith Houghton attached much attention at the summit with his university productivity data that showed wide variations across the sector in the cost of producing each research paper and educating each student. It stated there is a lot of room in many universities to become more efficient.

Individual universities can argue that there have particular circumstances that might make their operations more costly. But Dr Houghton’s data also shows how their productivity have changed over years. Some universities improved, including UNSW which steadily grew its research productivity under former vice chancellor Fred Hilmer who brought in McKinsey style management to the university. And Gardner can take credit for the productivity improvement at RMIT which she led from 2005 to 2014. But other universities which have not yet been publicly identified by Dr Houghton have not improved. Their progress over time resembles the drunkard’s walk – random movements back and forth with no overall progress. 

In the past fortnight, there has been a wave of interest in the work of Dr Houghton who is now retired for the ANU……He has been praised by Education Minister Simon Birmingham and he has attracted interest of those with regulatory and performance oversight over higher education. The stage now set for his work to be developed and refined to become an important tool to analyse university productivity in both research and teaching – at a deep level to help identify problems For universities, the scrutiny on their productivity will only increase. There will be nowhere to hide….”