Tuesday 1 October

Education Policy: update

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has damped down speculation (sparked by comments from new Education Minister Christopher Pyne) that the Coalition will move immediately to scrap the Student Services and Amenities Fee, stating that it was 'not a priority' and that there were 'no plans for change'. Commentators have noted that the government would have little chance of persuading the current Senate to pass legislation abolishing the fee, as well as highlighting the political difficulties posed by the Nationals’ support of the fee.

Mr Pyne's comments about the demand-driven system reducing quality continue to drive discussion, with UWA professor Peter Van Onselen suggesting that the system encourages unprepared students to attend university and 'devalues' degrees for all. The Australian Financial Review also reports that the Minister’s focus will be on finding ways to increase revenue to universities without a greater burden on public finances.

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International education

Permanent residency rules will be eased to make Australia a more attractive destination for international students, with Education Minister Christopher Pyne stating that the previous government “went too far” in tightening the student visa regime to prevent rorting. While the moves have been welcomed by the international education sector, demographer Bob Birrell has suggested that the changes risk entry-level jobs becoming monopolised by international graduates rather than local unskilled school-leavers. Trade Minister Andrew Robb has also moved to shore up Australia’s international education industry, launching a global social media competition that will see the winning student receive a year's free tuition at their choice of institution, free accommodation, return airfares and a $15,000 bursary.

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Online education

Mr Pyne has stated that the government will not be releasing the report on online education prepared by Liberal MP Alan Tudge, who chaired the Coalition’s online higher education working group. The report was to look at global trends in online education, funding options and pricing models. Mr Pyne has indicated that the government does not intend to drive universities’ decision-making processes about engagement in online education, suggesting that the market will determine whether an institution’s reputation and quality will support successful MOOC delivery. Major corporations such as Google and AT&T are helping to design niche certifications to be offered by providers of massive open online courses to their staff, aimed at companies’ specific needs.

Meanwhile, a major UK government report has found that the disruption posed by MOOCs is real, but that the high student drop out rates from MOOCs is raising concerns that the learning environment is challenging and may discourage many students.

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TEQSA regulation

In the Australian Financial Review, Murdoch VC Richard Higgott argues that the 'excesses' of the current TEQSA regulation process limits innovation, and that universities would benefit from a “lighter touch”, self-regulatory regime rather than the current compliance culture. Higgott suggests that the globalisation of best practice has, for universities, meant 'the reinforcement and accretion of both host country and home country regulation'.

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Research careers

A leading Australian scientist has warned that research in Australia lacks a succession plan, as the best young researchers face struggles trying to establish themselves in a permanent position. Monash University’s Professor Trevor Lithgow has highlighted the difficult position of many Australian academics seeking to return from overseas, as well as the low priority afforded to research by the government’s recent portfolio restructure.

In other research and innovation news, The Wall Street Journal has suggested that China’s central planning approach to research is limiting its capacity for innovation by restricting funds to priority areas rather than allowing new ideas to flourish.

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Barry Humphries to assist Melb Uni fundraising

The University of Melbourne has announced that entertainer Barry Humphries will be the new patron of its ambitious global campaign to raise $500 million in philanthropic donations. The institution has already raised $267 million, with the University hoping that Humphries will connect with alumni and partners overseas.

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