Wednesday 9 October

Education policy

In his first major speech to the sector, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has signalled the intent for a 'new architecture' for international education, stating that the new government would prioritise finalising the list of non-university providers to be offered streamlined visa arrangements, reviewing post-study work rights, and responding to the Chaney Report into international education. A number of other policy commitments were also flagged in the speech, available in full at the link below, including reviewing government research funding to 'provide stability in research financing and the pursuit of research excellence', further investigating online education, and harmonising education systems in the Asia-Pacific region through development of 'comparable and complementary processes' in areas such as quality assurance, provider mobility and qualifications recognition. Peak bodies, including Universities Australia, have welcomed the Minister’s commitment to international education.

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International education

The Minister’s comments align with a soon-to-be released report by Deloitte which has highlighted the likely role of international education as one of Australia’s five 'super-growth sectors' over the next 20 years, with a stabilising Australian dollar to support the growth in demand predicted to come from the burgeoning middle class in China and India. The report, Positioning for Prosperity? Suggests that along with visa reform, pricing needs to be deregulated to encourage institutions to be more responsive to students’ needs. The international education industry has welcomed the report, while refuting claims by Monash University demographer Bob Birrell that increased post-study work rights for international students could prevent Australians from securing entry-level jobs. Visa issues for Australian students studying in Asia have also received attention, with commentators suggesting that a regional approach to education visas would overcome significant obstacles to the government’s Colombo Plan.

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Still on international matters, UNSW Vice-President (Engagement) Jennie Lang has analysed the benefits of international collaboration in research and innovation, concluding that the most effective research outcomes can be achieved through collaborative global networks 'built around complementary skills and shared goals'. She suggests that alliances of universities can create a 'collective wealth' of knowledge, resources and contacts that allows for greater innovation. Group of Eight peer Monash is set to expand its presence in Indonesia through collaborative arrangements, although executive director of global initiatives Paul Ramadge was quick to hose down suggestions that a bricks-and-mortar presence was a priority for the university. Monash also hopes to collaborate with a "mirror" network in Indonesia that would bring together leading universities and research institutes.

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TEQSA reform

Following TEQSA’s recent announcement that it would be reforming and streamlining its processes, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has foreshadowed further changes to reduce the red tape burden on universities. Universities have welcomed the reform, which will effectively create a 'two-speed' system where trusted providers are subject to less stringent scrutiny, but some commentators have expressed concern that TEQSA will still release only minimal information on the reasons for its registration decisions. In the Australian, former University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Daryl le Grew argues that the reforms do not go far enough, criticising the 'stultifying pressure' resulting from TEQSA’s 'formulaic approach' and suggesting that universities should be managed by exception.

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Admission applications

University admissions centres across the country have reported drops in applications compared to 2012, with South Australia the only state to register a small rise in applications. The Australian has reported that Year 12 applications are steady, but that the non-school leaver market was driving the dip. The drop may reflect a flattening-off of the demand-driven system of student funding, which some commentators have linked to a decline in university quality. The Australian Financial Review suggests that the foreshadowed review of the demand-driven system will have a positive impact for universities, especially if it focuses on evidence-based outcome measures to assess quality and considers appropriate policy settings to maximise public investment.

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MOOCs news

MIT is launching a series of certificate online courses in computer science and supply chain management via MOOC provider edX, which will not have admission thresholds but will require students to pay a fee for a verified certificate. The courses will be longer than a traditional MOOC, covering content equivalent to two to four traditional residential courses and taking between six months and two years to complete. British MOOC provider FutureLearn is also working with telecommunications company BT to create free online courses in Information and Communications Technology, which will be tailored to BT staff but available to the general public.

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Campus closure

Swinburne University has faced an outcry over the closure of its Lilydale campus northeast of Melbourne, with the mayor of the Yarra Ranges Council calling on Education Minister Christopher Pyne to 'bank' places in regional campuses linked to skills and community needs rather than leave them open to the vagaries of institutional budgets. Swinburne closed down its campus in the face of state government cuts to TAFE funding, making 27 out of 30 programs unsustainable.

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